Trialling drones across energy and gas networks

The safe and effective development of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations is key to the commercial exploitation of drone technologies.

But testing the feasibility of BVLOS flights across electricity and gas networks comes with a unique set of challenges.

So our large-scale Pathfinder project aims at establishing and regularising a framework for BVLOS linear infrastructure surveys across gas pipelines and overhead lines. The project will allow routine and non-routine energy infrastructure surveys to be carried out more quickly, easily and cheaply than ever before.

The BVLOS aerial inspection of network infrastructures will:

  • Improve current survey and maintenance methods with UAVs reaching remote grid sites and difficult-to-reach assets, checking for damage following storms, detecting leaks, providing live location and data of problems
  • Reduce cost: currently high-pressure pipelines are often inspected by helicopters; using drones would be a safer and lower-cost solution
  • Improve safety, by eliminating the use of human labour, scaffolds and cherry pickers.

The aim of the project is to showcase and validate the way drone technology could transform industry network maintenance processes, through ‘business as usual’ beyond visual line of sight inspection (10’s or even 100’s of kilometres) in a controlled and uncontrolled environment.

Key Challenges the project addresses

  • Understand network survey requirements
  • Understand the network commercial requirements
  • Develop viable BVLOS Concept-of-Operations to address these requirements
  • Establish acceptable safety arguments to support these BVLOS Concept-of-Operations
  • Consult and justify any changes with aviation stakeholders
  • Obtain approval from the CAA for trials operations
  • Align requirements for policy/regulatory change with DfT/Pathfinder community
  • Obtain CAA approval for final ‘business as usual’ framework

The Consortium

A consortium of gas and electricity network operators are exploring this solution. This project is coordinated by international innovation scout the EIC and led by Wales & West Utilities in collaboration with Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks.

Callen-Lenz, aviation specialists, are creating the project’s operational framework and will demonstrate the project through flight trials.Their skills lie in the management of manned and unmanned systems and their experience spans the public and private sectors and the civilian and military domains

The Connected Places Catapult are supporting this project with providing a unique position to engage with the Department for Transport. The Catapult will enable pre-deployment stakeholder meetings and ensure the BVLOS Concept-of-Operations and Operational Safety Case are presented to all stakeholders, including the Department for Transport and UK Civil Aviation Authority.

This project is entirely funded by the project partners though Network Innovation Allowance.

Project completion: August 2020

Latest Updates

Above and Beyond July 2019 – Progress Review
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