For an experienced pilot with thousands of flight hours, learning to fly a drone is fairly straightforward, Phillips said. What’s important for the company is that drone pilots have an understanding of aviation culture.
“We have guys that understand air space. You have to know how to speak FAA,” Phillips said. “It’s understanding how to operate in the national air space system.”
The company also has to navigate the oil and gas industry, which has its own culture and safety concerns. Midstream Integrity’s industry partners are BlackBrush Oil & Gas LP and Flat Rock Engineering and Environmental LP, both based in San Antonio. Midstream Integrity also has a research agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Hendrix said the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center is developing a credentialing program, which could be available early next year, as a way to reassure oil and gas companies that drone operators understand their safety concerns and the high value of the equipment in the field. They also need to understand aviation regulations, and be competent at flying the drones.
Some fresh insights into the realities of operating in a dirty, dangerous high stakes environment.