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  • Andrew Johnston

Drone Inspection: A Spark of Innovation for Flare Stack Inspections

Author: Andrew Johnston

Flare stacks play a crucial role in the safe disposal of gas and maintaining the stability of pressure and flow in various industrial processes. Ensuring the proper functioning of these vital assets is of utmost importance to prevent accidents and equipment failures. Traditionally, inspections were performed through labor-intensive and risky methods like climbing, scaffolding, or rope access. However, the advent of drone technology has revolutionised the inspection process for flare stacks, making it safer, more efficient, and cost-effective.

Offshore flare

The Importance of Flare Inspections

Before we delve into the exciting world of drone inspections, let's highlight the significance of regular flare stack assessments. Flare inspections are mandatory and must be conducted at specified intervals, depending on facility regulations and the condition of the equipment. Factors such as equipment age, materials used, and process conditions influence the frequency of inspections. These proactive measures ensure early detection of potential issues, including corrosion, cracks, or structural problems, thereby preventing hazardous situations.

The Rise of Drones in Industrial Inspections

The oil and gas industry has been transformed by the integration of drones, transforming the way industrial inspections are conducted. Their utilisation in inspecting flare structures on oil platforms has opened up new possibilities for enhanced safety and improved efficiency. One of the key advantages of using drones for flare stack inspections is their ability to safely access and gather data from hard-to-reach areas that were previously inaccessible.

The Drone Inspection Process: A Step-by-Step Overview

At innovair, we have been at the forefront of using drones for flare inspections, catering to facilities worldwide. Let's walk through the typical process involved in a drone inspection campaign for a flare stack at an oil and gas facility:

1 Mobilisation/Preparation

Before the inspection team arrives on-site, a comprehensive work pack is submitted. It contains all the necessary method statements, procedures, and resources required to complete the work scope. Upon arrival, the team reviews the work pack and permit with the site operations team. A site survey is conducted to identify suitable take-off and landing areas, plan flight missions, and assess and document flight risks in the permit.

2 Site Safety

Ensuring safety is paramount, and thus, gas testing is completed on-site before commencing operations. Additionally, an electrician may check all electrical equipment. The flight team and supervisor conduct a toolbox talk and risk assessment discussion on-site, covering both general work and flight operations. Once the permit is signed off and the equipment is set up, the flight team can discuss flight missions.

Drone flying above the sea beside an offshore flare

3 Flight Plan

Detailed flight missions are essential for a thorough inspection of the flare stack. These missions outline the routes to capture all aspects of the stack, including the base, flare tip, platform, and related structures. The flight plan also includes information on secondary landing locations and emergency procedures. Practicing these scenarios is crucial to be well-prepared for unexpected incidents. After finalising the flight missions and ensuring a safe environment, the inspection can commence.

4 Inspection Mission

Certified and trained drone pilots operate the drone system, typically using advanced models like the DJI M300 equipped with P1 and H20T payloads. The drone captures various types of data from different angles, combining close visual examination with thermal data. To ensure comprehensive coverage, the inspection may consist of up to 10 flights. The flight team regularly backs up and reviews the collected data to detect any potential issues, such as corrosion, cracks, or other structural problems. Flight logs and permits are finalised at the end of the shift or temporarily suspended if additional flights are needed.

5 Reporting

Once the flight team has captured all angles of the flare stack and related structures, the project is nearly completed. A comprehensive report, including annotated images of features and defects, is then compiled onshore and sent to the client for review. This report highlights any issues such as corrosion, gas leakage or blockage, debris, potential dropped objects, hot spots, and structural damage that were identified during the inspection.

Oil rig with flare

+ Summary

Drones have revolutionised the inspection process for flare stacks in the oil and gas industry. Traditional methods like climbing and scaffolding are being replaced by the safer and more efficient use of drones. By utilising drones, we can conduct thorough inspections of flare structures on offshore assets, capturing data and images from hard-to-reach areas. The drone inspection process involves meticulous planning, detailed flight missions, and the use of certified pilots operating advanced drone systems. The collected data is then analysed to identify potential issues, and a comprehensive report is compiled for clients. Drones offer increased safety, reduced inspection time and cost, and the ability to access difficult locations, making them an excellent solution for inspecting critical components such as flare stacks.


Want more information?

Find out how we support our clients with their flare inspections in this case study

SSE Case Study Blade Inspection
Andrew Johnston - Inspection Director Innovair

A message from the author:

"Thanks for taking the time to read this blog on flare inspection. Reliable, innovative and experienced, we hope to become your go-to team for trusted inspection advice, support & solutions.

Reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn"

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Andrew Johnston BEng, MInstNDT LEP

Inspection Director


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