Drones and aircraft don’t usually mix but Air New Zealand says it can use the airborne robots to drastically reduce the time it takes to inspect an aircraft.
The New Zealand carrier has teamed up with maintenance, repair and overhaul provider ST Engineering to trial the concept, called DroScan, at the MRO’s provider’s facility next to Singapore’s Changi Airport.
It is here AirNZ planes undergo heavy maintenance checks and the unmanned drones developed by ST Engineering are doing a job that would previously be performed by an engineer on a boom lift.
The drone takes a planned route around the outside of an aircraft to inspect its surface and take high definition images.
The images are processed using software with smart algorithms to detect and classify defects that can be reviewed by engineers.
“Using a drone to inspect our aircraft will save time, taking around one to two hours, compared to up to six – depending on aircraft type – which means repairs can start sooner if needed, and our aircraft will be able to get back in the air more quickly,’’ said Air New Zealand chief ground operations officer Carrie Hurihanganui .
“We’ve trialed using DroScan on a number of our aircraft undergoing maintenance inspections in Singapore now and believe using a drone will also help improve inspection quality.
“In future, there may be an opportunity to use the device in New Zealand, for example to conduct ad hoc inspections after lightning strikes.”
ST Engineering Aerospace sector deputy president Jeffrey Lam said the project combined traditional aircraft engineering skills with new skills such as software and data analytics.
“Our engineers can now focus on higher value-added activities by spending their time on analyzing the defects and developing solutions for the defects rather than spending time climbing all over the aircraft to look for the defects,’’ he said.
Air New Zealand and ST Engineering are also collaborating to manufacture 3D printed replacement interior parts and on data analytics to optimize maintenance activities.