Following the success of a pilot programme in 2022, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) has launched a quality-assured course for operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in industrial environments.
The use of drones across the industry is growing rapidly. This is due to the safety benefits and increased efficiency for workers that drones provide, as well as cost savings and a reduction in asset downtime for inspections. Yet, until now, no consistent training existed for operators to use these within an industrial setting.
The new ECITB Foundation UAS training course, created in close collaboration with the UK Drone Association, ARPAS-UK, is now officially open for training providers across the country to deliver. It will support both industry and people who would like to develop their knowledge and skills to operate drones in industrial environments.
There are myriad applications for drone use, particularly in the oil and gas, nuclear and renewables sectors. Worker exposure to work-at-height risks and other hazardous environments, such as the inside of storage tanks, can be significantly reduced through the use of drones.
But they can also be of huge benefit to the rail industry and general construction sites to map, track and survey major projects. Combined with traditional techniques, drones can dramatically increase the safety and efficiency of asset inspection.
In its report Skies Without Limits (July 2022)*, global professional services firm, PwC, estimates there could be £3.5 billion predicted cost savings from drone uptake in the construction and manufacturing sectors alone (£22 billion across all industries). Drones can also contribute to the industry’s Net Zero goals by reducing carbon emissions by 2.4 tons. But PwC highlights skills as an area that must be addressed to ‘Unlock Drone Potential’.
Andy Brown, Interim CEO at the ECITB, said: “There is real demand across the industry for operators who can not only pilot drones but who possess the specific and essential knowledge and skills to carry out drone operations effectively in industrial settings.
“Collaboration has been the key to getting this off the ground. Through effective collaboration with employers, training providers and learners, we have developed this quality-assured training to provide a consistent quality standard for all industrial drone operators. It will directly tackle the skills gap, support employers to train and upskill their workforce and meet that identified need across industry.”
Jonathan Carter and Steve Ross from Global Drone Training delivered the pilot programme at Neath Port Talbot College in September 2022. This was attended by delegates from Sellafield and Network Rail.
Jonathan said: “This is an excellent course that includes how to comply with site policies and procedures. It is assessed by a practical flight competence test, where operatives pilot a drone in a real environment and capture, store and share viable images, complying with data protection.
“I would definitely recommend it to other training providers. Training providers licensed to deliver the course will receive all course materials including lesson plans, Powerpoint presentations, online and practical assessment materials, workbooks and exercises that are tried, tested and are ready to go.”
Amanda Smith, Sellafield UAV Equipment Programme Lead, said “UAVs are used on a regular basis at Sellafield to inspect our assets such as roofs, building cladding, ventilation ductwork and pipe bridges. By using UAVs we have removed people from harm (people do not have to work at height on scaffolds or mobile elevating work platforms as much), reduced downtime on plants and cost avoided millions of pounds by not having to build scaffolds.
“This course is very relevant to the work we are doing at Sellafield using UAVs. Having an industry-wide standard that I can look for on a CV will give me more confidence that those applying for a job have training that is relevant. It provides UAV pilots with industry experience which is vital when working on a highly regulated nuclear site.”
Liam Barrington, Project Manager with Network Rail, said he wanted to achieve a higher level of drone awareness and industry-specific competency which he could share within his organisation to better prepare new and budding pilots for real-life working situations. “The most enjoyable aspect of the course has been learning about new planning and ECI procedures. I will recommend future drone pilots in Network Rail attend this course.”