The existence of drone aircraft has posed an entirely new raft of problems for airlines all over the world, but now a major carrier wants to take advantage of this technology. Austrian Airlines has been testing a new approach to drone aircraft which will see the small vessels carry out technical inspections of its aircraft fleet.
As part of this new initiative, aircraft will be checked for structural damage or paintwork issues via autonomous drones, developed by a French start-up company by the name of Donecle. This innovative approach to aircraft maintenance will help reduce the workload for technicians employed by the Austrian national carrier. But there are other benefits as well.
By using drone aircraft, Austrian Airlines claims that the duration of checks will be reduced significantly. This process currently takes between four and 10 hours, but the carrier believes that this can be shaved down to just two hours by using drones, enabling quicker availability of the company’s aircraft during daily flight operation.
Michael Kaye, Vice President Austrian Airlines Technical Operations, suggested that drone technology will offer major advantages over current arrangements. In a press release, he asserted,
“Our aspiration at Austrian Technik is to stay up-to-date when it comes to new developments. Innovative systems such as these drones perfectly support us to further enhance our stability in flight operations and avoid flight cancellations.”
Testing of the fully autonomous drones will continue until the end of 2019, with aircraft technicians continuing to supervise the process. Laser technology is involved in the drone’s inspection, while the drone is also able to fly autonomously in order to inspect all areas of Austrian Airlines aircraft.
Advanced camera technology mounted on the drone aircraft enables them to take photographs every second, providing a huge amount of evidence for a certified aircraft technician, who will then make a final decision on each plane. Technicians will also be provided with extensive training in operating drone aircraft, with the drones working very much in tandem with experienced personnel.
Austrian Airlines has implemented the drone inspections on its Airbus fleet currently, which is an important decision as its Airbus fleet will expand to 46 aircraft, from its current 36, over the next couple of years. But there are already plans in place to expand this autonomous inspection of aircraft to other models in the foreseeable future. Indeed, later this month the 17 Embraer planes deployed by Austrian Airlines will also start being given the once over by drones.
The notion of using drone aircraft in this fashion was actually derived from a competition held by the parent company of Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa Group. The drone provider “Donecle” presented its innovation at a start-up challenge, and impressed the airline enough for it to implement its suggestion.
Generally speaking, drone aircraft have been more of a problem for the aircraft industry than an opportunity prior to this new initiative. For example, a Virgin Atlantic aircraft came within 10 feet of hitting a drone on approach back in October last year. And this is just one of several drone near misses, as airlines come to terms with dealing with the autonomous aircraft.