Drones are seen by aviation authorities and airlines as threats to safety, but Europe’s second largest low cost carrier sees them as a means to check out its 198 single aisle Airbuses for undetected damage and as a tool for improving safety.
At an Innovation Day in London this week easyJet said it would start using suitably equipped drones to do external inspections of its jets from as early as next year, freeing up its large in-house maintenance and engineering division to focus on more skilled tasks and repair defects that might have have otherwise evaded human detection until they became more obvious and costly to fix.
EasyJet’s more detailed statement about its ambitions ought to encourage discussion about how drones might be similarly used by other airlines, and perhaps for additional tasks, such as supervising the effective de-icing of critical control surfaces or better inspecting composite panels for much harder to visually detect signs of damage than is the case with conventional metallic components.
The airline has also partnered with Airbus in the on-going development of an externally mounted volcanic ash density mapper that would allow its jets to continue some operations the next time volcanic ash threatens European skies by showing which areas and altitudes were contaminated and those where no threat of damage to engines is present.
Preventative maintenance could save airlines substantial sums, as airliners often fly with undetected issues until the damage or deformations become both obvious and more costly to fix.
EasyJet says it is also looking at high definition glasses in which what the wearer, such as pilots or ground agents could convey in high definition and real time what they see to its engineering and maintenance bases for advice or trouble shooting.