Sky-Futures, a Texas-based company is now one of a select group of UAV companies to be granted an FAA exemption to do business using commercial UAVs.
The federal agency on Monday issued a Section 333 Exemption to Sky-Futures, a drone-inspection company that serves the oil and gas industry.
Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act “provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the [National Air Space] a competitive advantage in the UAS marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety,” according to the FAA. The exemption is so far only available to industries covering precision agriculture, film making, power line and pipeline inspections and oil and gas flare stack inspections.BP was one of the first oil companies to be granted such an exemption.
Sky-Futures’ new exemption will allow the firm to deploy the Ascending Technologies Falcon 8 drone. The company’s inspection work outside the U.S. includes contracts with oil companies such as Talisman, Chevron, Conoco Philips and Apache. Sky-Futures has amassed more than 8,500 hours of flight providing live flare, structural and under-deck inspections on and offshore.
“Now that Sky-Futures USA can operate commercially, this technology will provide jobs, promote innovation and most importantly lead to improved safety for the oil and gas market in America,” said Sky-Futures USA Vice President of Business Development Jason Forte in a company statement.
“Our unique blend of veteran unmanned technology expertise and significant oil and gas experience is already enhancing safety with proven savings of more than $4 million for offshore drone inspections,” Forte added.
Drone inspections allow oil companies to get a closer look at various infrastructure areas without deploying human rope-climbers — a process that can be time-consuming and unsafe. Sky-Futures drones collect video, stills and thermal imagery data to help experts produce technical reports regarding flare systems and structural engineering.
Since September, the FAA has granted 48 Section 333 exemptions and closed 21 requests. Applicants must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that ensures the airspace for their proposed operations is safe, and that they have taken proper steps to see and avoid other aircraft.
Some of the latest exemptions granted include Aetos Group Inc. (aerial inspection of plant infrastructure), Quiet Creek Corporation (mapping and precision agriculture operations, BNSF Railway (evaluation and analysis of railroad infrastructure and operations and Build Imagery (aerial photography of architectural, engineering, and construction industry sites).