Today, Avitas Systems, a GE Venture, announced it received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a drone beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) with radar in Loving County, Texas on Shell Oil Company assets in the Permian Basin. This permission marks for the first time the FAA has approved a UAS for civil use of this type and grants Avitas Systems the ability to fly a UAS over 55 pounds to inspect Shell’s oil and gas infrastructure, such as well pads, at the basin.

“Being the first FAA-approved civil use of BVLOS with radar is a significant achievement for Avitas Systems and our customers,” said Brad Tomer, Interim CEO for Avitas Systems, adding: “Using a technology-centric and collaborative approach is what drives our ability to transform industrial operations and provide safer and more efficient services. We worked closely with Shell Oil Company (Shell) for the use case, location, and to show how this technology can improve industrial operational efficiency and safety. The FAA provided the necessary feedback to enable our team to design a system that safely meets the aviation regulatory requirements. And, we had system design, safety, test, analysis, and validation support from AiRXOS, also a GE venture company.”

The benefits of drones, especially BVLOS operations, is well known in the commercial drone space and there is no exception here. Right now, Shell operators in the Permian Basin drive hundreds of miles to visit sites to inspect, repair and clean infrastructure, which congests roads and causes a significant loss in manhours from travel.

To now be able to use multi-mission surveillance drones, when combined with advanced analytics, Shell can detect oil and gas leaks, corrosion, abnormal heat signatures, the presence of wildlife, road conditions and more. Shell operations teams will also have better insight into the overall condition of its assets, and how the conditions change over time. This will enable the team to identify issues sooner and fix them faster, according to Shell’s press release.

“Drones are already an integral part of Shell’s digital operations, with missions flown daily across our global footprint,” said Bruce Culpepper, U.S. Country Chair for Shell. “Now, with the FAA’s approval and with the assistance of Avitas Systems, we can fly over a larger area of our Permian Basin operations to conduct aerial monitoring of our oil and gas infrastructure. This includes leak detection and data gathering needed to make more efficient operational decisions, which will result in improved environmental performance with less strain on road infrastructure in the Permian Basin. This is a tremendous achievement made possible through collaboration with the FAA, GE, Avitas Systems, and Shell, and represents the future of drone-based surveillance technology in the U.S. Unconventionals fields of the future,” he said.

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