Skyports Drone Services has joined Norwegian energy giant Equinor to test electric drone deliveries to oil rigs in the North Sea. This initiative aims to showcase the potential benefits of drone services, addressing logistical issues, and promoting both safety and environmental sustainability in offshore settings.
Initiated earlier in September, this two-month flight program is unique as it champions daily, on-demand offshore drone services piloted directly from the shore. The project employs a highly automated drone manufactured by Swoop Aero. This drone can cover distances up to 114km and is used for cargo deliveries between Equinor's Mongstad processing center on Norway's west coast and the Gullfaks oil field's three installations in the North Sea. Moreover, it facilitates intra-installation transportation. Notably, these North Sea operations represent the most extended flights conducted by Skyports Drone Services.
The trial has seen Skyports Drone Services conduct numerous flights, with plans to execute hundreds more. The cargo for these flights primarily consists of spare parts, equipment, and care packages. The use of drones offers a competitive edge as they are more cost-effective, rapid, and safer than traditional transportation means. A significant advantage is the drones' ability to operate under challenging visibility conditions like dense fog. Both companies hope to extend drone services under such conditions in the future, pending regulatory approval. These electric drones are environmentally friendly, emitting no operational emissions.
The trial emphasizes exploring the scalability of these services with limited human involvement. The drones, while operating autonomously, are remotely monitored by a dedicated Skyports Drone Services team stationed at Equinor's recently inaugurated ROC in Bergen. Equinor's on-site staff, trained by Skyports Drone Services, manage cargo loading and unloading, battery replacement and charging, and overall interaction with the drones.
Preliminary feedback from the trial has been encouraging, suggesting that such delivery mechanisms could be expanded to cover more installations.
Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services, commented on the venture, stating, "The collaboration with Equinor demonstrates the potential of drone delivery in offering a safer, cost-effective, and more sustainable solution compared to traditional offshore transportation methods. The offshore energy domain, with its time-sensitive demands and remote operations, stands to greatly benefit from such innovations. Our focus now is to explore the applicability of these services in other areas like offshore wind and ship resupply."
To undertake this project, Skyports Drone Services coordinated with Avinor and the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway for the necessary flight clearances. For this trial, the choice of drone was the Swoop Aero Kite, a fixed-wing model from the Australian logistics platform firm, Swoop Aero. This drone, which can handle a payload of 5kg and has a range of 175km, is designed to operate efficiently under challenging weather conditions.