Reimagine Pipeline Inspections with Aerial Data

Pipelines across the United States are getting old. According to reports by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), approximately 55% of gas transmission lines and 43% of hazardous liquid pipelines are over 50 years old – that’s over half a century!1

As assets age, they become more susceptible to hazards. However, with rigorous inspection programs and preventative maintenance, you can make well-informed decisions to repair and replace segments of pipe and safely prolong the life of your asset.

Unmanned aerial data platforms can serve as a vital tool in your asset integrity arsenal. Through largely-automated processes, these platforms can deliver models and precise visual insights that will revolutionize how you monitor your pipeline and Right-Of-Way (ROW).

Pinpoint pipeline failures and hazards

While Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer imagery with fantastic spatial resolution and accuracy – this is only the raw input for valuable aerial data. Every inspection of your ROW is going to generate thousands of images for painstaking analysis. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get proactive anomaly detection that your team can take action on with each inspection? Well, you can!

At SkyX, our system processes each and every photo and identifies midstream pipeline hazards on a right-of-way after each flight. Pooling liquids, dying vegetation, third-party activity, and other environmental factors – we flag them all. Over time, through change detection analysis, we compare new and previous flight images and notify you of any noteworthy changes happening to your right-of-way – be it consistent erosion or slowly-encroaching construction.

Create a digital record of your pipeline right-of-way

Orthomosaics introduce a new level of visual acuity to the GIS interface you use to manage your operation. An orthomosaic is a large, map-quality image made by combining the individual photos taken on a right-of-way, providing high detail and resolution on a map-wide scale.

In your pipeline operations, an ortho serves as an updated digital record of your ROW. Oftentimes, GIS basemaps are based on outdated satellite data, which offers poor resolution from an inspection standpoint. With a UAV-sourced orthomosaic, you can zoom into an area of concern without substantial loss of resolution.

Having this kind of visual record enables greater compliance with regulators and external stakeholders. With the ability to provide a high-resolution visualization of an area, along with geospatially-accurate coordinates to overlay important operational and property data – both parties can work from a place of common understanding.

An ortho also gives you a better understanding of the ground conditions around your operational overlays in a GIS. When you combine annotations of potential issues on your ROW, you create a singular interface from which you can effectively manage your entire operation.

Understand the surrounding terrain

The numbers behind an image can also be of great value to an operator. A Digital Elevation Model (DEM) provides a mathematical representation of your site’s ground surface elevations. Traditionally, these models required expensive satellite surveys and highly specialized radar or LiDAR sensors. Today, these models can be created easily through the combination of a simple UAV-mounted camera and photogrammetric mapping techniques.

From a DEM, a pipeline operator can analyze key environmental factors and how they may affect operations:

  • Track the rate of erosion or ground movement to understand the amount of stress being put on the pipeline
  • Perform hydrological analysis to model water crossings that intersect your ROW, drainage, and other catchment areas for analysis

This is an instance where combining different forms of aerial data enables a holistic analysis of your ROW. For example, if you have a crack, sinkhole, or severe instance of erosion – you can cross-reference that anomaly against the elevation readings from your DEM to understand the true extent of the ground loss.

See the bigger picture

All of this aerial data gives you important insights that can help you reimagine pipeline inspections in your organization. Combining it with other important sensory data from your pipeline monitoring program – such as readings from your SCADA point sensors, in-line PIG inspections, or even external data sources like weather conditions – supercharges the insights you can obtain about your asset.

Managing an aging pipeline safely and responsibly requires proactive integrity management. By adopting an aerial data solution, you can obtain actionable insights that empower you to make intelligent decisions around preventative maintenance that prolong the life of your asset.

Questions about how aerial data can elevate your organization?
Talk to us about your challenges and data requirements.


  1. Miles by Decade Report Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 2020