We interviewed Eric Ekes, Sky-Futures USA Inspection Engineer from across the pond on what his job is, how he has seen Oil & Gas inspections in the Gulf of Mexico change and why drone technology excites him.

What is your current role at Sky-Futures?

I work for Sky-Futures USA as an Inspection Engineer/Drone Camera Operator. I work closely with the pilots who fly the drones to develop a flight plan and inspection plan for the asset to be inspected. I am responsible for manipulating the camera and taking video and/or still imagery of the items to be inspected and any area of concerns I may find. I liaise with the client beforehand to confirm what needs to be inspected and ensure Sky-Futures has all of the necessary information needed to complete the inspection. After the job scope is complete I review all the data collected during the job and create a report based on the findings to turn into the client for their use and knowledge.

How did you find the job?

In June 2015 I saw a job posting for an “Inspection Engineer” for a company that utilises drones to perform inspections offshore. I had heard of drones being used overseas and I, of course, knew what drones were, but had yet to hear of them in the Gulf! I looked Sky-Futures up and was blown away by what I saw. Not only were they using drones to perform inspections offshore but they were very successful at it and they were looking to open an office in Houston.

How did you become an Inspector?

I would like to say I always planned on being an inspector in the oil field but that wouldn’t be true. I had just gotten out of the Navy and didn’t have a career path in mind. A friend reached out to me about moving to Houston and getting a job in the Oil and Gas industry. 9 years later I have carried out all aspects of inspections throughout the Gulf of Mexico, witnessing the whole process of a rig’s life – from fabrication to decommissioning and everything in between. I have now set foot on approximately 95% of the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico performing inspections.

What did your role traditionally involve?

To deliver an inspection I was used to working with or sending a 2-4 man crew for NDT or an RA Crew. This crew would have equipment taking up space on deck, as well as bed space onboard for what could be 1-4 weeks’ time. Flare inspections would be limited and time-consuming, with the flare boom having to be out of service and our ability to survey all of it limited. Set up by an RA crew could take a full day and the inspection itself could take up to 2 weeks to complete depending on the scope of work. Then there is the added time if the weather were to come through…

How are inspections you deliver now different?

Using the drone we can complete the inspection is several hours and work within weather windows. From my experience this past year with Sky-Futures there have been many instances where areas are just completely inaccessible from the ground that the drone sees with minimal effort. Even with RA or scaffolding, there are restrictions and limitations whereas with a drone they are few and far between. The efficiency of the data provided by drone versus a person hanging from a rope is incredible. Not only can you hand off extremely high quality data and reports but you aren’t putting persons at risk and shutting platforms or assets down for extended periods of time causing the client to lose potentially millions of dollars in revenue.

How has the oil price affected inspections?

When the Oil price fell I understood how valuable having a job is and how being a part of a company that can not only save time and money but be extremely effective is the future. With the volatility of the market, money is, unfortunately, everything and if we can save our client’s money while at the same time providing better quality and more data that is priceless.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

One of the biggest challenges for Sky-Futures USA so far has been bringing Sky-Futures’ proven service over to a conservative market. We have spent time proving the service, and after completing our first inspection in the Gulf earlier this year, we see that it is now being accepted as the future of inspection in the region by our clients.

What’s the best part of your job?

The thought of being at the forefront of new technology with drone inspections. I see so many uses for drones in the Oil and Gas market, and for the first time I am excited by the new knowledge and experiences that lay ahead.

About Eric, Sky-Futures Inspection Engineer

Eric has spent more than 8 years as an offshore inspector in the Gulf of Mexico. During this time he supervised crews, interpreted scopes of work to minimize client costs, writing reports and managed crew, client and office communication. He has been on the majority of oil rigs in the Gulf whilst working for companies such as Oceaneering, SBM, Wood Group and GE where he used a range of traditional Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) methods. He now works as an Inspection Engineer for Sky-Futures USA, the world’s leading drone Technology Company in oil and gas. Eric spent 3 years in the United States Navy as an Aviation Maintenance Administrator maintaining aircraft flight logs and maintenance records for 12 F/A-18C fighter jets.

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