The Austrian airline uses UAVs that automatically inspect jets for damage. Other airlines of Lufthansa Group could also rely on the technology soon.
When we talk about drones in aviation, we are usually concerned with the threat to aircraft and the question of how to protect airports. But those small aircraft can also be very useful. For example, drones are already used to investigate aircraft accidents. And they could also have a future as flying helpers in the inspection of jets, as Austrian Airlines is showing.
Since this summer, the Austrian Lufthansa subsidiary has been testing drones from the French start-up Donecle to check aircraft for damage to paint and structures. The drone carries out inspections of the aircraft’s exterior using laser technology and under the supervision of an aircraft technician. The system flies along all areas of the aircraft independently and the drone takes a high-resolution picture every second.
Checks need less time
Using these images, software automatically detects damage to the structure and paint of the aircraft, such as missing stickers. The aircraft technician has the opportunity to inspect the damage to the tablet in detail and create a report for the maintenance team. «The drone does the preparatory work and accelerates the inspection, but the final decision lies with the aircraft technician,» the airline explains.
In preparation, the technicians receive theoretical and practical training. «The shorter duration of the check – less than two hours instead of the previous four to ten hours – also ensures faster availability of the aircraft in daily operation,» Austrian Airlines says.
Currently only Airbus jets
Currently, the drone inspections are only carried out on Austrian’s Airbus fleet. However, the airline plans to extend the autonomous aircraft checks to other models in the future. The 17 Embraer aircraft of Austrian Airlines are to be checked with the new technology in September.
«Another possibility would be to use the drone at our technology partner companies worldwide,» says Austrian’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Kaye. «This would give us an accurate picture of painting work carried out at another location in Vienna.»
Will Lufthansa also be relying on the drones?
The test at Austrian will run until the end of the year. If it is successful, the drones could also have a future with other airlines within Lufthansa Group. «Austrian Airlines acts as a test case within the Lufthansa Group and, together with Donecle, is continuing to develop the technology on the basis of its experience in scheduled operations»,,says the airline.
The starting point for the use of drones was an ideas competition at Lufthansa Systems. The drone company Donecle presented itself at a start-up challenge and worked with Lufthansa Technik to develop possible applications.