Recently we completed an annual health check of a pipeline attached to a couple of local bridges. Assets such as pipelines can require regular inspections to ensure compliance to regulations, early identification of issues, and monitoring the condition. Previously these inspections disrupted local vehicle traffic for days and put personnel at risk, hanging over the edge of the bridge to record the condition of the pipeline and support brackets. Using drones to inspect such assets eliminates risk to personnel, visual reporting is achieved more efficiently with no interruptions to the operation of the asset. When the client made contact with us again this year, our first step as always was to perform a feasibility assessment to ensure the job could be done safely.
The bridges were in Class G airspace, as close as 2.3km from the Gladstone Airport and within the approach circuit. Our CASA approved operational documents allow us to fly in this area providing we adhere to these strict procedures. Monitoring the local aviation radio channel allowed us to observe the location and expected flight paths of local air traffic during our operations. Because the area we were launching and landing from can also be a popular land based fishing location, we set up a 30m exclusion zone with signage to warn any potential pedestrians of drone operations in the area. The crucial role of Spotter was in charge of monitoring the area for pedestrians as well as local marine traffic. These bridges traverse beautiful waterways which boaties regularly use for fishing and crabbing.
We arrived onsite on a spectacular Central Queensland Winter’s morning. The client ran us through their risk assessment and pointed out potential hazards with their equipment/assets. We then ran through our Job Safety Assessment and Pre-Operational Briefing. Once we were all on the same page, we signed onto the work permit. The wind on site was slightly stronger than predicted, but still not an issue. We also observed military aircraft operating from the Gladstone Airport. The US air force jets were part of Exercise ‘Talisman Sabre’ some 200kms north north west of Gladstone. Military aircraft obviously transmit on their own special frequency, but prior to arriving and operating from airports such as ours they do phone head to ensure local aviation protocol is followed.
We completed around 400m of pipeline in 4hrs, consisting of 12 flights and 24 batteries. Results were processed and uploaded to our cloud based inspection portal for pipeline engineers to view within 48hrs. Without this inspection platform, engineers would have to troll through hundreds of zoomed in photos without easily being able to identify the location and orientation of each photo. This software allows users to zoom into their asset initially from a google earth perspective, then click on icons to show each photo. From there you are able to zoom in on the high resolution shots for greater detail and inspection. If the engineers find an issue, they can create annotations to flag the issue for reporting purposes. We created a few annotations on points of interest we discovered on the day.