BVLOS Inspections Using Nested Drone Systems by Aerodyne Skip to main content

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Aerodyne GroupAerodyne Drone Solution Provider, headquartered in Cyberjaya Malaysia, is a provider of DT3 (Drone Technology, Data Technology, and Digital Transformation) drone-based enterprise solutions. With 458,058 flight operations, it has inspected more than 560,000 infrastructure assets and surveyed more than 380,000 kilometres of power infrastructure in 35 different nations.

Ahead of the technology curve globally, it is also addressing challenging industrial problems with analytics driven by AI and drone data, allowing organizations to rapidly scale, undergo digital transformation, operate optimally, and boost productivity.

Aerodyne Group was ranked the top drone solution provider in the world by Drone Industry Insights (DII) in 2021 and was honoured as “Asia Pacific UAV Services Company of 2019” by Frost & Sullivan.

The Current Challenges with Pipeline Inspections:

Demand for petroleum and petroleum products has only increased in the recent past due to global economic and population growth, as well as continual urbanization and industrialization. Over the years, Malaysia’s leading oil and gas company has built various refineries and/or petrochemical complexes across 7 Malaysian states and interstate gas pipelines to connect with industrial and power sectors across Malaysia and into Singapore.

Related: BVLOS Inspections of Solar Farms Using Modular Drone Docks in Japan

It has become necessary to monitor the existing and potential pipeline right-of-ways, which span over 1630 miles, in order to identify encroachments. The two main issues with the current inspection method are as follows:

  1. Use of crewed aircrafts: Currently, the majority of Malaysian energy companies use helicopters to monitor encroachment in potential pipeline Right-Of-Ways (ROW). Each mission costs an average of $150,000 USD, making inspections more frequent than every six months practically impossible.
  2. Foot Patrols: Once the aircraft confirms an encroachment, foot patrols, typically consisting of two personnel, are dispatched to these remote locations. Such manual site inspections take approximately 8 hours and cost approximately $500 USD just to get a closer look and validate the threat.

Nested Drone systems used for pipeline inspections
The Solution – Leveraging Nested Drone Systems (NDS)

To address these challenges, Aerodyne has recently launched the first-of-its-kind localized beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone project in Malaysia, called Aerodyne FULCRUM. The project employs a modular Nested Drone System (NDS) to transform the way these pipelines are inspected digitally. By implementing this system, Aerodyne intends to improve the safety, efficiency, and quality of data collection and analysis in the energy sector.

pipeline inspection using drone

FULCRUM intends to use a combination of a Hextronics Atlas 300 docking station compatible with the DJI M300 RTK drone and FlytNow’s software solution to carry out these operations on such a large scale.

drone command center

How it Works

The FlytNow software solution enables project managers to schedule pre-planned or on-demand flights from a command centre located miles away from the base station. The drone takes off from the Hextronics drone nest autonomously, flies its mission, captures real-time videos and images, and uploads them to the cloud.

Following the flight, the drone returns to the docking station for battery swapping and storage. The Hextronics Atlas station can charge up to four batteries simultaneously and swap out the existing battery in less than 90 seconds, ensuring minimal downtime. Furthermore, because it is lightweight, it can easily fit on the back of a pickup truck and be moved from one location to another if necessary.


pipeline inspection solution using drone nest

How Aerodyne Plans to Deploy Drone Docks along the Pipeline

Owing to the complexity & the scale of the project, Aerodyne, leading the operations effort, has planned the deployment in phases. In the initial phase, Aerodyne will strategically locate thirteen units of FULCRUM systems at multiple sites in the control stations compound along the ROW. Each drone will collect data and monitor the encroachment for up to a five-mile radius around the nest, on a 24/7 basis.

Once phase 1 is successful and the value proposition is established, the following project stages will be put into action. Aerodyne anticipates beginning BVLOS operations up to 60 miles by September 2022. Long-range operations such as these will necessitate additional complexities, such as integration with onboard detect-and-avoid technology and a UAS traffic management system.

How did Aerodyne receive the BVLOS approval?

Special BVLOS authorisation was granted by the Civil Aviation Authorities of Malaysia (CAAM) in order to carry out these operations. The Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) is used in Malaysia. The JARUS SORA requires both ground and air risk assessment and related Specific Assurance and Integrity Levels (SAIL). Operational Safety Objectives (OSO) are then driven by these SAILs and must be met.

To reduce the risks on the ground, Aerodyne decided to fly over unpopulated areas and set up geo-fences around the pipeline ROWs. Additionally, each drone is equipped with a parachute to reduce ground risk. Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) are released during drone operations to lessen air risk. A centre for operations also communicates with air traffic control (ATC) through the radio and provides real-time flight telemetry data to ATC.

The BVLOS approval in this instance took months. It involved a formal application meeting after a pre-application meeting to submit a draft SORA plan to the CAAM. Prior to capability demonstrations, the last phase before approval, there were document reviews and evaluations of the SORA, the concept of operations, and risk mitigations.

Aerodyne’s Vision of Making Drone Autonomy a Reality

Harjeet Johal, senior representative and company lead for North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean at Aerodyne Group, explained that

the company’s strategy is the “crawl-walk-run approach”. In order to undertake remote pipeline monitoring flights across the nation, our crew is eager to start crawling with short-range autonomous BVLOS operations before moving into full-scale operations.”

By offering a 24/7, safe, dependable, cost-effective, and autonomous capability, Aerodyne FULCRUM will fundamentally alter the way pipeline inspections are conducted. Using the nested drone system, energy companies could scale up quickly, undergo a digital transformation, run safely, and boost productivity.

Nitin Gupta, Founder & CEO of FlytBase, Inc., concludes by stating that

“Nested Drone Solutions are rapidly revolutionizing the way repeatable, high-frequency missions are conducted across use-cases. Maintenance of pipelines, spread over thousands of miles, is a great application of this technology with a significant ROI for the end-user. We are excited to partner with Aerodyne and play a role in this massive endeavor. This has been a great learning experience and has helped us further strengthen the FlytNow platform in terms of offering industrial-grade reliability, safety, security and scalability.”

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Having 5+ years of experience in the niche aerospace and drone/UAV industry, combined with technical proficiency grounded on a practised role as a Geospatial Analyst and a master’s degree focused in GIS and Remote Sensing.

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