Photo: Gullfaks C platform; Source: Equinor

Equinor to become first operator to deploy drones for offshore logistics ops

Norway-headquartered drone systems and services provider Nordic Unmanned has revealed that its compatriot state-owned energy giant, Equinor, is on the brink of becoming the first operator to carry out offshore logistics operations using drones.

Nordic Unmanned informed on Wednesday that it has received a call-off for the next phase of the drone offshore logistics contract with Equinor, explaining that offshore operations will take place from the Gullfaks C platform in the North Sea.

Knut Roar Wiig, CEO of Nordic Unmanned, remarked: “Through a step-by-step approach, where risk, maturity and complexity are mapped, we have gradually advanced our operations’ complexity. Together with Equinor, we are pushing the boundaries of what drones can do for offshore logistics, providing solutions that are more sustainable, scalable, and cost-efficient. Nordic Unmanned has proven its capabilities and is ready to provide offshore drone logistics as a standardised service.”

The operations, which are scheduled to start on 15 August 2022, mark “a new milestone for the drone industry and for Equinor, as the first operator to utilise drones for its offshore logistics services,” said Nordic Unmanned in its statement.

The company elaborated that the start of these offshore operations is a result of an “intense” three-week onshore test phase, where the firm’s team verified the readiness for offshore logistics services, working closely with Equinor to conduct multiple “ground-breaking” trials and demonstrations of drone logistics services.

Pål Kristensen, Vice President Logistics, Nordic Unmanned, commented: “The support from Equinor and willingness to push the industry forward is crucial for developing drone offshore logistics services.”

The Norwegian drone systems and services specialist pointed out that the onshore and offshore test phase is part of the offshore drone service contract inked with Equinor in December 2021 and represents “the largest and most ambitious drone logistics contract in Europe and the offshore energy industry.”

The contract award from December 2021 followed the August 2020 flight conducted for Equinor, when Nordic Unmanned made drone history by performing cargo delivery from shore to the Troll A platform, as well as a comprehensive study performed during 2021, as reported in January 2021.

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According to Nordic Unmanned, the scope of work included in this latest deal involves multiple daily cargo flights between the installations at the Gullfaks field and multiple daily flights between offshore installations and vessels in the Tampen area.

Moreover, the company will conduct multiple daily flights between installations and from installation to vessels during the first stage of the offshore test at the Gullfaks field with drones flying goods between Gullfaks A, B and C, as well as to vessels within the area. This is expected to “significantly improve the efficiency” of offshore logistics and reduce emissions, leading the industry towards a more sustainable future.

“It is great to see how we can utilise technology to increase efficiency and get a higher level of autonomy, proving the scalability of offshore drone logistics as a service. One unique example is how we will utilise drones to efficiently transport dangerous goods between offshore installations and vessels. This is one of many examples of how we have matured our solutions to support the offshore industry,” added Kristensen.

Nordic Unmanned further stated that these operations are made possible by leveraging its EASA LUC – Light UAS Operator Certificate – to self-approve operations and through close collaboration with its partners: Airbus DeckFinder, Schiebel, Planck, TAU Autonomy Center, Stavanger Airport, Avinor, CAA Norway and Norwegian Communications Authority (NKOM).

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The Gullfaks field lies in block 34/10 in the northern part of the Norwegian North Sea and the development solution for the field consists of three large production platforms. The Gullfaks C platform was installed in May 1989 and the production from the Tordis oil field is also tied into this platform.