Eyes in the skies
Provincial Aerospace (PAL) has been flying maritime surveillance aircraft for over thirty-five years for government, military, and industry clientele. In the 1980s, the company underwent a shift from basic visual surveillance and mapping to more advanced radar-based methods and has evolved to become a world-leader in developing and operating airframe-based radar, surveillance, and ice management technologies.
PAL’s 1980s metamorphosis is owed much to the forward thinking of one of its owners, Gus Ollerhead, who first had the vision to put anti-submarine radar on an aircraft, something that had never been attempted before.
“Radars designed to pick up periscopes in the Cold War happened to be very effective for picking up ice and icebergs too,” explains PAL Chief Operating Officer, Jake Trainor.
It was the kind of innovative thinking that has become the hallmark of Newfoundland and Labrador-based ocean technology companies like PAL, and for Trainor, the environment – both physical and in terms of infrastructure, collaboration and support – that is ideal in the province.
“We have a rich tradition in dealing with conditions in the North Atlantic, and the support of the sector to help develop these capabilities,” says Trainor.
PAL is able to create tailored solutions for clients in diverse sectors including defense, offshore oil and gas, maritime domain enforcement, fisheries enforcement, and search and rescue, putting together the best combination of sensor systems to achieve the desired goal, then mating it with the aircraft that is best suited to the task. Altitude, endurance, payload, range, and number of crewmembers on board are all factors that feed into the decision.
“As we continue to evolve and develop, we are becoming more and more a data-driven company that happens to know something about aircraft,” says Trainor. “In essence, we are producing sensor systems that happen to have wings.”
PAL is particularly well versed in the key area of ice management, having provided such services to operators off Canada’s east coast for over twenty years. It provides oil and gas operators with visibility regarding the whereabouts and anticipated movements of sea ice and icebergs that may be a threat to their assets. In turn, early ice management measures can be taken, such as redirecting an iceberg, or, in extreme cases, disconnecting and moving a platform. Such systems are critical to avoid an incident that could have environmental or worker safety implications, and to limit expense.
“We take a layered approach, using all the tools in the box,” says Trainor; tools that include satellite imagery, manned surveillance flights, surveillance from seafaring vessels and offshore platforms, as well as highly accurate predictive models.
“We have decades of data on ice movement, so we can create predictive maps, kind of like a weather forecast,” Trainor explains. “Here’s where the ice is today, here’s where it will be in 24 hours, and here’s your 48-hour risk pattern. That’s an ongoing activity.”
As the Arctic continues to become an increasing area of interest for exploration and development, PAL is set to play a key role in the North.
In addition to its ongoing search and assist capabilities and ice management, modeling and detection business, PAL is already heavily involved in ongoing resource exploration and is set to play a key role in future Arctic development and production.
“As development continues in the North, there will be a need for additional awareness of what’s going on,” says Trainor. “It’s a vast space and we’re well positioned to take the technology we have developed here and extend that into the North. There will be a need for existing services and new services that we’re already engaged in research and development on. In every segment of our business, we’re looking to the North.”
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