Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices and Nor­we­gian ener­gy firm Equinor will tri­al elec­tric drone deliv­er­ies to oil instal­la­tions in the North Sea to demon­strate how on-demand car­go drone ser­vices can solve logis­ti­cal chal­lenges and improve safe­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

Launched in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber, the two-month flight pro­gramme marks the first time that dai­ly on-demand drone ser­vices off­shore have been pilot­ed from shore, with a Swoop Aero car­go drone that flies dis­tances of up to 114km.

Car­go deliv­er­ies will oper­ate between Equinor’s pro­cess­ing cen­tre site in Mongstad on the west coast of Nor­way and three instal­la­tions in the Gull­faks oil field in the North Sea, as well as between instal­la­tions.

Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices has already oper­at­ed flights for the project and sched­uled to oper­ate hun­dreds through­out the tri­al, car­ry­ing spare parts, equip­ment and care pack­ages.

Uncrewed drone ser­vices are sub­stan­tial­ly cheap­er, faster to mobilise, and safer than con­ven­tion­al trans­porta­tion meth­ods and can fly at much low­er vis­i­bil­i­ty, includ­ing thick fog.

A key focus of the tri­al is to explore how the ser­vice may be scaled with min­i­mal human inter­ven­tion. The air­craft are remote­ly pilot­ed by a small team from Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices at the new­ly opened Equinor cen­tre in Bergen.

Equinor staff locat­ed on the instal­la­tions have been trained by Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices to load and unload car­go, switch and charge bat­ter­ies, and safe­ly inter­act with the drones. They have com­plet­ed instal­la­tion activ­i­ties for all flights con­duct­ed to date.

Alex Brown, Direc­tor of Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices, said: “This project proves that drone deliv­ery can offer a safer, cost-effec­tive, more sus­tain­able alter­na­tive to con­ven­tion­al trans­port meth­ods in off­shore envi­ron­ments.

“The off­shore ener­gy sec­tor is per­fect­ly placed to ben­e­fit from drone deliv­er­ies due to the inher­ent time sen­si­tive nature of work­ing off­shore, as well as the extreme remote­ness and rugged­ness of oper­a­tions.”

Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices has worked with Avi­nor and the Civ­il Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty of Nor­way to secure flight per­mis­sions. Dur­ing the tri­al peri­od, Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices opt­ed to deploy the fixed-wing Swoop Aero Kite air­craft by the Aus­tralian logis­tics part­ner of Sky­ports Drone Ser­vices, Swoop Aero. It has a 5kg pay­load capac­i­ty, range up to 175 km, and can oper­ate in harsh weath­er con­di­tions, includ­ing wind and rain.

In Feb­ru­ary, Swoop Aero obtained approval to oper­ate beyond Visu­al Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) in New Zealand, as it pre­pares to launch the country’s first Inte­grat­ed drone logis­tics net­work in part­ner­ship with Te Whatu Ora Health.