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Hawk-eyed free-flying drones to inspect aircraft

Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) - Drone Inspection

As part of its MRO Lab Adaptive Innovations program, AFI KLM E&M is trialing an automated aircraft inspection system using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), aka drone. They're faster, simpler and cheaper to use. Now read on...


New applications in a wide range of industrial sectors are continually being found for drones. The aircraft maintenance sector, where their ability to carry out certain automated tasks autonomously is likely to generate added value for maintenance tasks, is no exception.

Automated, real-time inspection of aircraft defects
Aircraft structure inspections are among those tasks. These can be lengthy, require aircraft to be grounded, tie up qualified personnel, and in the opinion of airlines are a waste of time and money. "Drones help avoid those complications," explains James Kornberg, AIR FRANCE KLM Director Engineering & Maintenance Innovation. "In partnership with Donecle, a start-up, AFI KLM E&M is trialing a UAV solution able to perform inspection flights using an autonomous trajectory around the aircraft thanks to laser positioning technology and integrated sensors. In the automatic flight phase, the drone detects and locates defects on technical markings and/or lightning strikes, and downloads the data in real time to an operator, along with metadata such as the camera position."

Speed, reliability, performance
Following an initial campaign involving some 50 test flights around A320s, AFI KLM E&M is embarking on a second, more intensive campaign, with two flights a week over a period of five months designed to confirm and test system reliability. Three major benefits have emerged from its use: "The system has significant potential in terms of effectiveness, cost reduction, and traceability," says James Kornberg. "Effectiveness because it means a 20-minute inspection phase compared with the current five hours, without tying up qualified technicians. It cuts costs because in addition to shortening AOG times, it does not necessarily involve towing the aircraft to a hangar and can be performed outside. The data are traceable, because all data harvested by the drone are stored in a secure Cloud environment that is accessible at all times."

The objective is to integrate this inspection method as part of a maintenance program at the end of the test period, and AFI KLM E&M will market it in partnership with startup Donecle to the client airlines of its global MRO network.

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