French company GRTgaz announced the hiring of Air Marine, a French aerial-data company, to conduct monthly inspections on 50 miles of natural gas pipeline. According to a company press release, the first pilot inspections too place over the past few months in southwestern France and “confirmed the worth of this innovative solution,” a company spokesperson said. GRTgaz hopes the drone surveillance plan will provide a more efficient means of inspection in densely wooded and remote areas. The company, which owns and operates just less than 20,000 miles of underground pipelines, hopes to use Air Marine drones to complement its current monitoring system of ground-based inspectors along with piloted flyovers.
GRTgaz chose Air Marine due to the company’s experience with “beyond-visual-line-of-site” flight experience. Company officials say the inspection program is the first of its kind under a revamped 2012 French law regulating drone use. During each deployment, Air Marine will use two pilots – one to navigate the drone and the other to analyze data. All flight data will then be integrated into a special interface designed by Air Marine.
The natural gas supplier is the latest of several European companies to hire drones to inspect infrastructure. In April, French energy company GDF Suez announced a similar partnership with Redbird, a civilian drone company, to monitor natural gas infrastructures. The French company’s venture capital subsidiary said it invested $2.1 million in Redbird to facilitate drone monitoring of natural gas infrastructure, survey topography and monitor “security for public institutions.”
In the U.S., commercial drone companies can apply for an FAA exemption that, once granted, will allow UAV use for pipeline inspection as well. Specifically, Section 333 grants commercial drone users permission to operate both rotorcraft and fixed-winged UAVs. The exemption is only available to industries covering precision agriculture, film-making, power line and pipeline inspections and oil and gas flare stack inspections.
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