Total Safety U.S. Inc., which was recently granted a Federal Aviation Administration regulatory exemption for commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) use, plans to operate a DJI S1000 for flare inspections.
The Houston-based company, a provider of integrated safety and compliance services and the products necessary to support them, operates from 150 locations in 21 countries.
Flare maintenance, Total Safety explains, is critical work and needs to be done routinely at facilities including plants, refineries, pipelines, tank batteries, drilling rigs, production rigs and many manufacturing environments.
Typically, when regular inspection and maintenance are conducted on a flare, that unit or system must be taken offline, or a temporary flare must be used to bypass it. This could mean hours or days with reduced or no production, says the company.
Flares can be several hundred feet tall and have discharge temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees F. In some cases, it is not possible to shut the flare down to perform the inspection. When this situation occurs, there are risky/dangerous options: climbing a nearby structure, using a sky lift for a better view of the flare or even climbing the flare while it is in operation.
A third alternative for inspecting active flares comes with a high price tag: using a helicopter for aerial inspection.
‘Typically, chemical plants and refineries are no-fly zones, so making these visual inspections is only possible from a distance,’ says Lawrence Cyrnes, general manager of Total Safety flare services in San Antonio. ‘But distance and other factors can compromise the effectiveness of an inspection, and they are sometimes impossible to do because of weather, trees, wires, fencing and other restrictions.’
Drone technology, however, enables Total Safety to easily move around and above the flare to examine it while it is in operation. This is a two-person operation and is much less expensive than other methods, which often require at least three employees to perform the inspection.
The company says it uses one technician to pilot the drone and another technician who wears special goggles that allow him or her to see what the camera sees and take close-up, high-resolution photos and video for further study.
‘This method is faster than other methods and provides an instant record of the inspection,’ says Chris Barton, Total Safety downstream district manager. ‘Setup for aerial inspection using a Total Safety drone is quick and easy, too.’
Total says it is the only U.S. company approved to perform flare inspections on land using UAS. As of Feb. 6, the FAA has approved 24 companies throughout the U.S. for various commercial uses.
The company’s petition was filed by Mark A. Dombroff of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, supported by the Small UAV Coalition and opposed by the Air Line Pilots Association.
The full exemption grant can be found here.