Drone Near Pylon

Industrial drone course launched to train new pilots

Image credit: ECITB

The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) has launched a quality-assured course for operating unmanned aircraft systems in industrial environments.

Given the safety benefits and increased efficiency for workers that drones can provide, as well as cost savings and a reduction in asset downtime for inspections, the use of drones across industry has grown rapidly in recent years. 

However, until now, no consistent training programme has existed for operators using drones 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 available to training providers across the country.  The course will support both industry and people who would like to develop their knowledge and skills to operate drones in industrial environments. The official launch follows the success of a pilot programme in 2022.

Drones are especially useful in the oil and gas, nuclear and renewables sectors, significantly reducing worker exposure to work-at-height risks and other hazardous environments, such as viewing the inside of storage tanks.

Drones can also be of benefit to the rail industry and general construction sites in mapping, tracking and surveying major projects. Combined with traditional techniques, drones can markedly increase the safety and efficiency of asset inspection.

In its July 2022 report 'Skies Without Limits', global consultancy firm PwC estimated there could be £3.5bn in predicted cost savings from drone uptake in the construction and manufacturing sectors alone, with up to £22bn across all industries. Drones could also contribute to the industry’s net-zero goals by potentially helping reduce carbon emissions by 2.4 tons. PwC also highlighted 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 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 the 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 a pilot programme at Neath Port Talbot College in September 2022. This was attended by delegates from Sellafield and Network Rail.

Carter 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 scaffold or mobile elevating work platforms as much), reduced down-time 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," he said. "I will recommend future drone pilots in Network Rail attend this course.”

More information on the course is available on the ECITB website.


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