Commercial, Products, Public Service

Era Partners With Industrial Safety Firm on Drones

By James T. McKenna | August 9, 2016


Era Group is partnering with a leading industrial-safety firm to offer unmanned aircraft for construction, engineering, inspection and survey work as well as emergency response and disaster recovery. 

The Houston, Texas-based major helicopter operator has formed an Unmanned Aerial Solutions service and struck a deal to be the exclusive provider of drone services to Total Safety, the industrial inspection and safety services firm that also is based in Houston. In turn, Total Safety will be the exclusive provider of inspection services for Era's drone offering.

Era's new unmanned aircraft system (UAS) service “results from our continuing commitment to develop innovative and efficient technologies to better serve our partners," said SVP of Commercial Paul White. Unmanned technology “presents nearly limitless use cases due to numerous available flight platforms and sensory applications.” 

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Total Safety SVP of Business Development Darrell Whitley said unmanned aircraft “provide one of the most important technological breakthroughs we have seen in compliance and safety.” He added that “remote aerial systems allow us to get close to potentially dangerous environments without endangering people and they allow us to do it less expensively than ever before.” 

The potential business opportunities of unmanned aircraft for helicopter operators is a featured topic of Rotor & Wing International’s Rotorcraft Technology Summit Sep. 19 and 20 in Fort Worth, Texas. The panel discussing “Drones as a Business Opportunity” on Sep. 19 includes Era Helicopters' director of business development, Richard Marcus. 

Visit www.rotorcraftsummit.com to register and learn more about the summit.

The Era-Total Safety alliance comes as each company is struggling to overcome the negative effects of the global oil downturn on their businesses. 

Era on Aug. 2 reported an 83.1% plunge in second-quarter net income, to $1.9 million from $11.3 million for the quarter that ended June 30, 2015. Its operating revenues fell 10% over the period, to $63.4 million from $70.7 million. 

"Industry conditions remain very challenging,” said Era Group President/CEO Chris Bradshaw, adding that the quarter’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were the company’s lowest in several years.

On May 23, Moody’s Investor Service downgraded its rating of the debt of Total Safety’s holding company. The move reflected “Moody's expectation of further deterioration in Total Safety's operating and financial performance driven by intense pricing pressure and weakening activity levels,” the ratings firm said.  

In February 2015, Total Safety became one of 24 companies first approved by the U.S. FAA to use unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes. It initially used drones to inspect industrial-facility flare stacks. It since has expanded its drone services, adding sensor technology and inspections and site surveys. 

Total Safety said the partnership will allow it and Era “to safely and economically add expanded flight operations, technology and data processing capabilities” for UAS services at chemical plants, refineries, pipelines, tank batteries, onshore and offshore drilling and production sites, midstream oil and gas facilities and other industrial and manufacturing environments. 

Total Safety added that its alliance with Era would allow drones “to be deployed for post-incident response and disaster-recovery efforts. 

As that company explained the approach, it and Era would assign a two- to three-person flight team of aviation, safety and inspection experts to each project based on client and FAA requirements. The partners will customize the UAS platform “around sensor and software packages for optimized collection of high-definition (HD) still imagery, HD video, thermal imaging, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) for leak detection and repair, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), 3D mapping, geo-referenced or point-cloud modeling” and transfer to computer-aided design (CAD)-enabled tools.

Total Safety has FAA approval to fly the DJI Innovations S1000. Photo courtesy of DJI

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