Bringing its drone capabilities to bear in a larger portion of the market is the major opportunity for Skyriders going into 2021, affirms Marketing Manager Mike Zinn. Having being issued with a Remote Operating Certificate (ROC) from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) will now allow the rope-access specialist to offer a complete service.
“We were quite active in the drone environment, both indoors and outdoors, but had to make use of subcontractors to fulfil our outdoor commitments. Now that we have our own licence we can fully roll it out as a package,” explains Zinn. Skyriders has two pilots, and for example has just completed a project whereby one team flew a drone indoors at a power station, while another team carried out an inspection of an external smokestack at a mine. “Hopefully from that we will receive potential maintenance and inspection work, at which point our rope access capability comes into play.”
Another major growth area going forward is simple inspection and maintenance operations in the heavy industrial sector in particular, which has been severely disrupted by the lockdown restrictions. “We anticipate that Level 1 will be in place for quite a while, at least until a large-scale vaccine rollout is implemented. In this scenario, ordinary inspection and maintenance has to continue, otherwise plants could suffer unplanned shutdowns,” highlights Zinn.
Skyriders is able to field small, flexible and dynamic teams that can offer a range of services while being fully compliant with all Covid-19 regulations. “Building a massive scaffold structure takes considerable labour, while rope access only requires a small team. The same applies to our drone department, where a two-person team can visually inspect an entire boiler without the need for scaffolding or extra technicians,” notes Zinn.
Describing 2020 as a “massively challenging” year, Zinn explains that the lockdown regulations necessitated an additional layer of procedures, processes and paperwork on each and every single project. This not only increased the duration, but had major cost implications for clients as well. “For the work we quoted on during the lockdown, we could at least factor in the added expense. However, a lot of our current work was quoted on months prior, and our clients themselves are facing budgetary constraints at present.” Additional logistical requirements were that a four-person team now had to travel in two separate vehicles, for example.
“At the same time we were able to manoeuvre around such difficulties. Our safety and operations team was quite quick to put all the necessary procedures into place and implement them. All employees, specifically our technicians, understood the health and safety implications. We embraced the challenges that presented themselves, especially from a programme perspective.
“Whereas we normally only had to allocate an hour prior to a shift for a mandatory toolbox talk and risk assessment, we now had to factor in another 30 to 45 minutes for additional measures such as taking and recording temperatures. This impacted on our programmes and resulted in jobs taking an average of 5% longer, which can have a significant impact on the bottom line,” elaborates Zinn.
Looking at the impact of the training services provided by its Heightwise Academy in Midrand, Zinn reveals that these were put on hold from the end September. However, major project sites requiring training services, such as Kusile power station, were also shuttered due to the lockdown. Training has subsequently recommenced now that restrictions have eased, albeit with limited classroom attendance. “We are in the process of catching up on the training backlog from the last few months,” adds Zinn.
A particular highlight of 2020 was completing a complex and challenging project at a major petrochemical producer in Mpumalanga under extremely difficult conditions, but with zero issues from both a safety and commercial standpoint. In addition, Skyriders maintained its momentum during the year and is still going relatively strong. “In the greater scheme of things, we have done very well considering how tough the year has been for all small and medium businesses, many of which have not survived the downturn.”
A continued strategic focus for 2021 will be to pursue additional work in Africa, especially as it is anticipated that travel restrictions on the continent will ease in the New Year, allowing Skyriders to service its growing client base there. “The challenge is going to be to continue what we do safely and to our usual high standard of work, meeting all the requirements of our clients. We have to remain positive and optimistic. We aim to tackle 2021 with the same vigour, professionalism and enthusiasm as we did in 2020,” concludes Zinn.