A partnership between a major Surat Basin gas project and Boeing to develop world’s first commercial use of beyond-line-of-sight drones has attracted $1 million in Advance Queensland research funding.
Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), or drones, are being used to monitor natural gas wells and associated infrastructure for Shell’s QGC operations which, until now, have mostly been inspected on the ground by four-wheel-drive.
The State Government says the Advance Queensland funding will develop and test RPAS technologies for adoption by critical industries including LNG, agriculture, mining, energy, telecommunications, search and rescue and environmental management.
Shell vice-president QGC Tony Nunan said QGC was proud to be introducing an emerging technology into its operations that would benefit both the resources and agriculture sectors.
“Landowners will benefit, over time, from fewer visits to their properties while QGC and the community will benefit from fewer vehicles on the roads,” he said.
“Our remotely piloted aircraft is operated by a world leader in this field in strict compliance with air safety regulations and following 18 months of successful trials.”
RPAS are operated for QGC by Insitu Pacific, which is a specialist subsidiary of Boeing and operates in line with strict privacy controls and policies.
The aircraft have a 3m wingspan and fly at 1500-2000ft, in compliance with air safety regulations of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 100 new aerospace industry jobs would be created in Queensland as a result of the investment in drone technology.
“The project aims to capitalise on the capabilities inherent in drones to carry out remote-monitoring and inspection of key infrastructure and data analysis to allow for better decision-making,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“Drone technology has the capability of introducing greater efficiencies in a range of Queensland industries and we want to make sure our state develops an industry that delivered jobs as part of this process.”
Technologies to be developed comprise an improved airspace situational awareness prototype system that will enable safe RPAS operations over a broad area and enhanced data analytics tools.
Director of Phantom Works International, Boeing Defence Space and Security Dr Shane Arnott said Boeing’s track record of aerospace innovation made the company a natural choice for this project.
“Boeing is excited to bring our 100 years of aerospace innovation to this important project,” Dr Arnott said.
“Working with the Queensland Government and our partners Insitu Pacific, QGC, Telstra and the SMEs, this really is a best-of-Queensland team dedicated to developing technology that can have a truly global impact.”
More than a third of Australia’s RPAS industry is located in Queensland with a number of companies offering RPAS capabilities from aerial photography and surveying, to product development and providing training for RPAS operators, with applications across a range of sectors, including agriculture, mining, oil and gas and environmental applications, such as reef management and feral animal control.