Why are drones suddenly appearing in the Austrian Airlines hangar? How can these small airborne devices support huge passenger aircraft, and how do the services they perform lighten the load of our staff in Technical Operations? We took a look behind the scenes in the hangar, and were treated to some fascinating insights…
Our aspiration at Austrian Technical Operations is always to be at the cutting-edge of technology.
DRONES IN THE HANGAR – HOW DOES IT WORK?
Since the middle of this year, we’ve been testing completely new technology which should eventually enable us to inspect and carry out technical checks on our aircraft far more efficiently and effectively. To do this, we recently began using autonomous drones developed by French start-up Donecle. Our aircraft are regularly checked by staff in Technical Operations for a range of potential issues including damage to paintwork or structural flaws. In the past, these checks have taken anything up to ten hours per aircraft. With drones, this could be reduced to just two hours.
In this way, drones not only lighten the workload, but also enable us to make aircraft available more quickly, so they can get right back where they belong: in the air. Michael Kaye, Vice President Austrian Airlines Technical Operations, is enthusiastic about the flying helpers, and points out the benefits of the new drone technology. “Our aspiration at Austrian Technical Operations is always to be at the cutting-edge of technology. Innovative systems such as the drones provide us with the perfect support as we expand our stability in flight operations further, so preventing flight cancellations.”
We want to keep expanding flight operations stability, so preventing flight cancellations.
AIRCRAFT CHECK IN THE AIR
The drones in the hangar are used under the supervision of the aircraft technology staff. Using the latest patented laser technology, the exterior of the aircraft is examined for structural flaws or problems with the paintwork. The drone can inspect every part of the aircraft totally autonomously, providing high-definition images every second it is up in the air. These images are then analysed for possible damage to the aircraft’s skin using special software. The system automatically recognises if there is a problem with the adhesive lettering or graphics used.
Our aircraft technicians also have the option of examining any flaws on the tablet in detail, and producing a report for the Austrian maintenance team. The drone does hugely important preparatory work, therefore. The final decision for further tests and maintenance measures is left to our certified aircraft technicians, who also undergo detailed training in how to operate the drones.
Austrian Airlines is the first airline in the group to be deploying drones.
THE FLEET BEING CHECKED
Because the drone checks are still at the test stage at present, their use is being limited to our Airbus fleet for now. All 36 aircraft are being checked using the drone at the moment, but another ten Airbus aircraft will be added to this in the next few years. Soon it will also be possible to test our 17 Embraer aircraft using the innovative technology.
Michael Kaye continues: “Another option would be to use the drones at Technical Operations’ partner companies around the world. That would allow us to get a precise picture of paint jobs being done at another location while still sitting in Vienna.”
HOW DID THE DRONE IDEA EVOLVE?
The French start-up won out after seeing an ideas competition advertised by Lufthansa Systems. The two companies then worked together to find possible uses for the autonomous drone. Austrian Airlines is the first airline in the group to be deploying the drones in tests, allowing it to gather valuable experience for wider use in scheduled operation.
To see how drones carry out inspections in our hangar, check out this video: