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Drone found by Apache ROV while operating from the Bibby Topaz at the Beryl field

Posted by Blair Nichols in UAV & Drones

A number of my clients have emailed and contacted me to make me aware of the recent article where a drone (UAV) was found by an ROV in the north sea. My clients have joked that it highlights that the Falcon 8 is not fit for purpose and it will help other operators using different craft get into the marketplace. They have also asked if this will have an impact on the use of UAVs in the Oil and Gas inspection industry.

When a UAV is performing an inspection at sea it will spend most of its time above the water and away from the vessel or structure to avoid the potential of a collision. This gives the pilot an added layer of safety in the form of time to adjust or safely ditch if required. It is therefore not a surprise to me that ROVs operating in the vicinity of oil operations have come across a ditched or lost UAV.

Without knowing the details surrounding this particular UAV's ditch it is hard for me to comment; it may have been forced to ditch to avoid collision with another vehicle, structure or person. It may have had a system failure, battery failure, motor failure or been subject to pilot error. Whilst I openly admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Falcon 8 due to its lack of safety based redundancy, particularly its lack of a dual battery or backup system, these UAVs certainly have their merits and have really done a lot for the industry.

So no, I don't think that this will hurt the Falcon 8 UAV. It is already an adopted technology with many companies supporting it and it has a good track record. I also do not think this will have a negative impact on the industry. Even with good flying practices, trained staff and well-maintained craft there will be accidents. In my opinion it's about how we go about reducing these cases. The industry is currently being reviewed by all the big players with their own divisions and the support of industry experts. Safety cases are being developed and money is going into the design and development of even more advanced UAVs with inbuilt safety features, flight rules, guidelines and hopefully one day an industry governing body.

So it's actually an exciting time for the UAV industry. Operators have the need to reduce costs and suppliers have the opportunity to reduce their day rates while maintaining a healthy profit margin. I see big changes in the next year, positive ones, with job opportunities and much-needed change and innovation with new views on old problems.

The biggest question for me is, "Do salvage rights apply here?".