By Joe Howell

Pilot Patrol

Last week, I talked a bit about how GIS technology can improve asset management in the Oil and Gas industry. This week I want to talk about putting it to good use as a part of Aerial Right of Way (ROW) inspection.

So why would you want to have a GIS system in the cockpit? Many newer planes have navigation systems built in. The military uses GIS in its planes and helicopters to coordinate troop movement and for target selection (among other things). But how does that apply to Oil and Gas? Three words:

  1. Safety
  2. Accuracy
  3. Simplicity

Piloting an aircraft can be a very demanding job even without having to try to collect information on the ground 1,000 to 3,000 feet below you.

When I was a boy, I used to ride with my father who was a pilot for Quality Drilling in Arizona. I still remember the thrill of flying near the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell. The reason it was so thrilling was the up and down drafts caused by those beautiful features below us that caused the plane to buck and jump. My dad was fully engaged in flying the plane and often missed the things I would point out to him because he was busy keeping us aloft.

Any pilot will tell you that safety is priority one. Pilots hired to do aerial inspection of pipelines are no different. Because they fly at such low altitudes, they have little time to react and have to deal with potential hazards that don’t exist at 6000 feet. On top of that, they are being asked to pay close attention to the pipeline and encroachments. They have to take notes on events on the ground, where they are occurring, what is occurring, and how to get to the event. They do all this while concentrating on wind speed, fuel, and other air traffic (a flock of seagulls can be even more inconvenient in the air).

This is where GIS comes in. Using a GIS system allows the pilot to concentrate on flying the plane instead of trying to figure out where he is relative to the pipeline or ROW; let the GIS take care of that. Load the GIS application with all of the pipeline data and ROW corridor, and display it on a map that the pilot can see. Add an icon to show the current location of the aircraft… and abracadabra… no more detailed notes on location. Instead of a knee board with note paper, use a table computer with a map based application.


So now that the pilot knows where he is relative to the pipe, what about all those detailed notes? Well GIS is more than just a map. The aerial patrol application simplifies this through a straightforward form. The map shows where he is and where the pipe is. Just tap the screen to document an event.

Choose a category and document the observation.


Record a few additional details and you are done.


Okay, I know what you are thinking; what if the observation doesn’t fit in the template? Well, simply choose other and make a voice recording of the event for later processing. The application stores all of this information together as part of the event and the pilot can review it when he lands.

Using this location centric application accomplishes all of our goals:

  1. It simplifies the collection of infringements and other events along the right of way.
  2. It captures precise locations instead of just descriptions of locations.
  3. Most importantly, it allows the pilot to focus the majority of his attention to flying.

If you are able to put a spotter in the air with the pilot, the aerial patrol application can also be integrated with a camera and/or a laser rangefinder to capture more detail and increase the accuracy of the event location.

Putting GIS in the air with your pilots makes a lot of sense. It makes the pilot’s job easier and improves the accuracy of the information you get back.

More to Come

Next week I will be discussing the use of GIS as an integration platform for visualizing SCADA information across the enterprise.

Topics: Aerial Right of Way Inspection, Pilot Patrol, Pipeline, Oil & Gas, Oil & Gas Industry

Posts by Tag

See all

Subscribe Here!