Airbus has unveiled their latest answer to aircraft maintenance at MRO Americas – a UAV known as the Airbus Advanced Inspection Drone. The tool has been designed with the intention of significantly reducing aircraft downtime, by speeding up visual checks and increasing the quality of inspection reports.
This new product, which takes advantage of Airbus’ extensive aircraft knowledge and combines it with best-in-class drone technology, is made up of an autonomous drone with an integrated photo camera, obstacle detection laser sensor, and flight planning software. By utilising Airbus’ proprietary aircraft inspection software analysis tool, the autonomous drone folows a predefined inspection path, capturing required imagery with its built-in camera. By transferring high quality pictures to a PC database for detailed analysis, the operator can then localize and measure visual damage on the aircraft’s surface by comparing it with the aircraft’s digital mock-up and generate an inspection report.
This drone-based aircraft inspection system has been developed in co-operation with Airbus’ subsidiary Testia, and has been in particular designed for inspecting the upper parts of the aircraft fuselage. It will be available for the industry in late 2018, once it has achieved EASA approval for this innovative inspection process. Several airlines which have expressed interest following initial demonstrations by Airbus, and the tool is expected to also be offered to MRO organizations.
In order to operate safely within maintenance hangars, the Airbus Advanced Inspection Drone is equipped with a obstacle detection laser sensors which halt inspections if mitigation of damage and danger is required. This technology allows the vehicle to fly autonomously, which means less man-hours on the ground.
By upgrading to the new drone-based hangar maintenance system, operators and MRO providers will be able to reduce inspection time, which will also allow faster turnaround of the aircraft for flight. Higher quality reports will in turn mean improved damage localization, repeatability and traceability. Compared to traditional aircraft visual inspection, which could typically last up to one day, this new inspection process can take a very short three hours, including 30 minutes of image capture by the drone.
The Airbus Advanced Inspection Drone makes up part of Airbus’ ‘Hangar of the Future’ (HoF), which is an innovation maintenance project begun initiated by Airbus Singapore in 2016. HoF brings together innovative technologies and smart IoT equipment, including ‘cobots’ (collaborative robots), drones, cameras, scanners and non-destructive sensors, with aircraft technical documentation and aircraft in-service data collected by Airbus’ open data platform, Skywise. Through the digitization and automation of maintenance activities, Airbus says it ‘is responding to the increasing maintenance needs of airlines with growing fleets, creating value for all stakeholders’.