THE rise of unmanned aerial systems in the resources sector has prompted the Flight Safety Foundation to set up a remotely piloted aircraft working group to define a global standard for the use of the new technology. The mining sector held its first UAS conference in Perth last week and the managing director of the foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard program, Greg Marshall, said the aircraft already was being used for applications such as mine site inspections and infrastructure surveys. He said Australia led the world in terms of legislation covering UAS operations with Canada also adopting some good procedures along with countries in Europe. But the US was still trying to come to terms with unmanned aerial vehicles and he was not aware of any African country that had -addressed the issue. “So we’re looking at putting out some guidance material for our members to use and the working group consists of a number of those organisations plus some other external to that,’’ he said. “The next step will be establishing a standard to become part of the BARS standard for UAS operations but we’re a little way from that yet.’’
The foundation hopes to have draft guidelines ready for its technical advisory meeting in October. Mr Marshall said there was a big push to use unmanned aerial vehicles mong mining companies. He cited Northern Territory-based Territory Iron, which had had gone through the process of getting certified and its senior surveyor qualified with a remotely piloted aircraft licence.
The company had being using a small UAV to do photographic surveys on minesites and then crunching the data through its computers to produce 3D views.
“They fly that very frequently during the mornings and crunch the data in the afternoons,’’ he said. “When you consider that saves on utilising a helicopter at whatever cost that is per hour, it’s extremely cost effective for them. And not only that, they can refresh their data because they can fly these things fairly often.’’
He said another company had been using a UAV to conduct pipeline inspections in a fraction of the time and cost while a third had been avoiding shut-down costs by using a rotary-wing UAV to inspect smokestacks.
“For any of the big and small companies, getting UAVs will make a lot of sense,’’ he said.
Mr Marshall said BARS would probably leave training programs to the commercial providers but would put together guidelines for the use of UAVs.
“There’s a lot of good information out there from various sources and it’s been hard for people to get hold of it,’’ he said.
“So what we want to do is get hold of that information, consolidate it into one set of guidelines that we can distribute.
“They can be used globally by our member organisations and perhaps by anybody else outside the BARS program.
“And from there we would establish a standard.’’
One problem could be variance between the different regulators, although the International Civil Aviation Organisation was also developing guidance material.
“But at the moment, in some areas of the world, it’s no-man’s land,’’ Mr Marshall said.
“In terms of UAVs, guidance material and regulation, there’s just absolutely nothing there, but people are using them in those areas.’’
An initiative of the Australian arm of the foundation, BARS is now four years old.
It has more than 100 aircraft operators registered for its program.
It was set up to provide resources companies with a consistent global auditing standard that would reduce duplication for both the miners and operators.
Before that each company did its own auditing to individual standards with different audit companies and auditors.
This made it difficult to compare audits and meant operators had to go through multiple procedures to work with different companies. BARS solved this and Mr Marshall said the level of quality control exercised by his office ensured the reports were objective and consistent. “So if you compare a fixed-wing operator in Australia with one in Africa, and then one in South America and Canada, you know that they’ve all been audited to exactly the same standard and the same level of quality control has been applied to all those audit reports,’’ he said. Since then, Mr Marshall said, the program had matured and improved significantly in terms of the quality of products and services offered. The foundation has just released the latest version of the BARS standards and implementation guidelines, Version 5, which includes a section for geophysical operations. This was done in conjunction with the Canadian-based International Airborne Geophysical Safety Association. “IAGSA have come on board with our program and, of course they will be the technical experts and if we have any updates to the geophysical section of the BARS standards,’’ Mr Marshall said.