US: BP Exploration has selected AeroVironment to provide mapping, geographic information system (GIS) and other commercial information services at its Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest oil field in North America, for a five-year period. Commercial UAS operations began on June 8, 2014.
The contract marks the first time an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will be performing routine commercial services over land in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. While the FAA allowed an unmanned drone flight for ConocoPhillips (COP) last year, that was restricted to flying over water.
Recent FAA restricted category aircraft type (RCAT) certificates for Puma AE and a larger UAS over water were the first for UAS in the national airspace systems (NAS). BP defined its mapping needs for the Alaska North Slope and issued a request for information in June 2013 to multiple geographic information system (GIS), manned and unmanned aircraft systems companies.
AeroVironment demonstrated mapping and inspection services incorporating UAS at the Prudhoe Bay field in September 2013 under a public certificate of authorisation through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. These services included 3D road mapping, 3D gravel pit volumetric analysis, visual and 3D pipeline analysis, general topography and environmental monitoring services, and demonstrated the ability to support wildlife protection, ice floe monitoring, search and rescue and oil spill response. The team also demonstrated inspection of critical infrastructure, including flare stacks, tanks, bridges and power lines.
As part of a comprehensive data collection, processing and reporting solution, AeroVironment integrated a LiDAR sensor payload into its battery-powered Puma AE UAS. AeroVironment's expert UAS operators are now performing photogrammetry and LiDAR analysis to survey Prudhoe Bay infrastructure including the gravel roads, pipelines and a gravel pit.
The LiDAR-produced maps delivered by AeroVironment's Puma AE, along with precision GPS guidance systems, assist drivers in keeping moving drill rigs centered on the roadways, even in low visibility conditions.