Why the sky is no limit to Sky-Futures

It’s not easy inspecting an oil rig, particularly when it’s miles out at sea. Sky-Futures, a five-year-old business that specialises in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industrial inspection services, is providing a cutting-edge solution to some of the energy industry’s toughest challenges.

The company’s operators work from vessels or platforms, flying remote-operated drones that are equipped with high-definition video and thermal cameras to carry out visual inspections of equipment. This information can be linked to proprietary software that measures defects and corrosion,  and which can then deliver engineering inspections and reports to companies in the oil and gas, renewables and utilities sectors.

So the UAVs can save time, cut cost and improve safety. Site operators can reduce the number of helicopter flights, or of those visual inspections that require rope access as well as reducing the cost of existing processes.

Sky-Futures’ ex-military co-founders, James Harrison and Chris Blackford, knew first-hand about tough environments and the capabilities of UAVs.

Both of them served in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan; Blackford worked in a specialist role co-ordinating combat aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

Harrison and Blackford knew that employing highly experienced ex-military personnel would be a significant advantage an industry where safety is paramount.  The UAVs are operated by a team comprising ex-military UAV specialists and image analysts and have been invaluable in bringing a reputation for safety, high quality and professionalism to this still-young business. The UAV operators are all UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) certified, with hundreds of flying hours under their belts. “We can confidently place them into difficult environments,” says Blackford.

Sky-Futures provides UAV inspection services to clients across the world – from the North Sea to the African deserts. Their clients include giant organisations such as Statoil, BG Group and Talisman Sinopec Energy. In a recent deal, Sky-Futures will provide general visual inspections of hard-to-access areas on all five North Sea platforms belonging to Abu Dhabi’s Taqa.

Sky-Futures' UAVs are being used to inspect all types of energy installations in difficult and remote locations

Sky-Futures’ UAVs are being used to inspect all types of energy installations in difficult and remote locations

The scale of the opportunity is immense. In the UK’s North Sea sector alone, maintenance and inspection looks set to continue for at least a further 30 to 40 years. That will translate into lots of UAV inspections.

The challenge for the founders is to translate that potential into solid growth for Sky-Futures. As a result, they have used the GrowthAccelerator scheme. “It has provided external validation for our plans, ideas and ambitions,” says Harrison, “and has helped to speed up our growth. We aim to be the world leader in unmanned inspection services.”

The Business Growth Service is now closed to new customers. Contractual commitments to existing customers will be honoured, as long as all support and related activity is completed by 31 March 2016. If you’re looking to find what business support is available in your area, your local Growth Hub may be able to help.