“Simply put, this job would not have been possible without an Operating Safety Case.”
That’s the verdict of digital services company, The Virtulab, after completing a drone
inspection of the iconic Lloyd’s building in the heart of London.
The team used a heliguyTM-supplied DJI M210 RTK with X7 camera to collect quick,
accurate and consistent data – eliminating the need for time-consuming and potentially dangerous manual checks via rope access.
And the operation all hinged on the OSC, which enabled the mission to take place within the City of London – the capital’s main financial district.
Thanks to the bespoke Operating Safety Case, The Virtulab was not only permitted to
operate in such a congested area, but was able to reduce its operational distances to 5 metres for takeoff and landing and 10 metres in flight!
It highlighted the value of an OSC and how it can empower drone operators to conduct niche and ambitious jobs – outside the boundaries of standard permissions. This in turn can enable drone programmes to diversify and scale.
“This job would not have happened with a Standard Permission, like a PfCO or Operational Authorisation; it just would not have been possible,” concludes Mike Hibberd, Operations Manager at The Virtulab.
“It really does show the advantages of having an OSC. And, while there were hurdles ahead of the Lloyd’s inspection, it proved that challenging missions such as this can be achieved safely and legally, as well as meeting the client’s expectations.
“Compiling an OSC does take work, but it is worth it, and enables you to push the
boundaries to operate outside the bread and butter stuff.”
Indeed, a growing number of drone operators are recognising the benefits of obtaining an OSC.
In recent years, the number of OSC applications received by the UK CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) has increased, from 120 in 2018 to more than 170 in 2020.
The heliguyTM OSC consultancy service helps operators compile the all-important
three-volume Operations Manual for submission to the CAA.
Our OSC specialist, Josh, was a UAS Technical Surveyor at the CAA, responsible for the evaluation, development and approval of OSC applications – meaning he is well versed in the process and requirements of building a bespoke and complaint OSC submission.
Save Time And Money With Drone Inspection
The Virtulab conducted the mission on behalf of its client, Arup – a British multinational professional services firm.
The brief was to capture the detail of the Lloyd’s facade, as part of a five-year project to assess and monitor the external fabric of the building.
And deploying the drone had numerous advantages compared to alternative methods.
Mike said: “The drone was ideal for this type of inspection, replacing the need for rope access, which saved time and improved safety.
“It was also a less invasive method of inspection. The Lloyd’s building is robust, but it is still Grade I listed. The drone was able to keep away from the structure, preventing any knocks, scrapes, or damage which could be caused through alternative methods.”
With the project lifecycle spanning five years, collecting consistent data to compare is vitally important. This task is made easier with a drone.
Mike said: “Using the drone removed the need to abseil down the outside of the building, stop at regular intervals, and manually take pictures. I believe a rope access team has tried this before, using GoPros, but it just didn’t work and wasn’t a suitable method.“
In comparison, the drone allows you to capture consistent data.
“It is much easier with a drone to achieve the right workflow; not only is it quicker and safer, but it is also a more methodical and consistent way of capturing the data you need, which in turn is better for cross-referencing and validating.”
Mike said that the DJI M210 RTK was ‘perfect’ for the operation, while the ability to switch lenses on the X7 camera (compatible with 16mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm) was beneficial.
He said: “We don’t use the X7 for video very often, but the content it can capture is stunning.
“One of the big advantages of the X7 is that you can change the lens focal lengths. Being able to adjust the focal length and field of view when operating in an environment like London is a huge advantage.”
Drone Flight Planning Software
The Virtulab undertakes all flight planning using the SOARIZON by Thales drone operations management platform.
SOARIZON’s digital drone planning software enables operators to plan, fly, analyse, and track their drone missions.
It provides operators with advanced mission planning, airspace intelligence and 3D
visualisation, risk assessment tools, NOTAMs, and mapping capabilities – all in one central hub.
The Virtulab found the platform invaluable for the London mission and praised its ability to centralise information for all operations.
Mike said: “All of our drone operations are now fully integrated into the SOARIZON by
Thales flight planning software. This has been a big step forward for us.
“It allows us to access and view everything in one central hub, instead of having to deal with an arduous paper trail, which was always a bit of a nightmare.
“Ahead of our operation in London, the SOARIZON by Thales platform identified several issues – and we acted accordingly.
“The building sat within the City of London Airspace, as well as a wider restriction applicable to most of central London so an Enhanced Non – Standard Flight (ENSF) approval was obtained from National Air Traffic Service (NATS).
“Furthermore, as part of the ENSF Permission, daily clearance was required from the
Diplomatic & Parliamentary Protection Group of the Metropolitan Police.”
As well as obtaining the necessary approvals, the job did have its challenges, such as
operating in GPS-denied environments and handling ever-changing winds just metres from the building.
Insurance firm, Flock, also provided a tailored revision to The Virtulab’s insurance policy to cover the potential increased liability when flying in such a heavily-congested area.
But the job was completed successfully, thanks to advanced in-depth planning, the
capabilities of the pilots, and the quality of the tech. heliguyTM has partnered with SOARIZON, offering candidates who book an online drone training course a discounted subscription for SOARIZON Elevate.