Why drones provide reliable, more accurate aircraft inspections

Aircraft of all types, from small single-engine planes like the Cessna Skyhawk, to massive cargo transports like Antonov’s AN-225 MRIYA, require constant inspection.

Commercial airliners, for example, usually have some level of a review conducted every two days.

Although these inspections are necessary for safety, they also cost businesses a lot of time and money.

Aircraft inspections often require more than just a maintenance crew. In many cases, they also require renting out space in an aircraft hangar. Not only are these difficult to book, they’re also incredibly expensive.

Additionally, if you’ve ever been involved in commercial aviation, you know how bad an out-of-service aircraft is for the bottom line.

The dreaded Aircraft On Ground (AOG) strikes fear into even the bravest of souls. But, in recent years, drones are helping companies save money, time, and get their planes back into service more quickly.

Let’s take a look at how they do it.

The Challenges of an Aircraft Inspection

One of the most important parts of an aircraft inspection is the visual assessment of the aircraft.

In this examination, trained technicians look for signs of damage or wear that might indicate any sort of safety concern. While these inspections are absolutely necessary, they’re not without their challenges.

Crews reviewing the condition of an aircraft’s exterior are often exposed to dangerous heights. The tail height of a Boeing 747, for example, is over 19 m (63 ft.) tall.

On top of the danger, moving an inspection team around a large aircraft safely is a painfully slow process.

Organizations owning several aircraft, such as commercial airlines, lose a great deal of money while their planes undergo inspections. Even though the aircraft inspections are needed, it’s still a costly endeavor.

Compounding the problem is the financial toll the COVID pandemic has taken on the travel industry.

Looking at just the commercial airline business, 2020 witnessed a 50% reduction in passengers compared to the previous year. That equates to a financial loss of approximately $370 billion – not to mention the economic impact on related services such as navigation service providers and airports.

Especially in times like these, anyone operating commercial or government aircraft must find solutions for improving efficiencies and lowering costs to stay within their budget.

Planes on the Ground, Drones in the Sky

For many aircraft operators, using drones to conduct visual inspections is the solution they need.

For several years, innovators in the UAV field have been looking to drones for their visual inspections. In 2018, one of the biggest aerospace companies in the world, Airbus, even created its own platform for the task.

There are numerous benefits that drones bring to visual aircraft inspections. Many of these advantages significantly lower the cost of the inspection process, causing industry professionals to consider adopting drones for the task.

Given the expenses related to an out-of-service aircraft, saving time on inspections is saving money.

Visual inspections for some platforms can take two or more days to complete. The ability of drones to automate the process, stopping only for battery changes, lowers these time windows to a couple of hours.

That means less time out of the air and less time paying for hangar space.

Drone Aircraft Inspections Improve Safety and Data

The safety of workers should always be one of your inspection team’s primary concerns.

Every year, injuries and deaths occur from workers falling off structures, and large aircraft place inspectors at dangerous heights.

However, drones can quickly fly to even the highest parts of an airplane without ever placing a person at risk.

Also, drones eliminate the need for scaffolding, safety rigging, and harness equipment, which takes hours to setup and breakdown.

Another fantastic benefit to using UAV technology aircraft inspections is the reliable and more accurate data collection they provide.

Even highly trained personnel occasionally miss defects and areas of concern on a visual inspection. Some portions of an aircraft are simply too difficult for a person to maneuver around for an accurate, thorough inspection. But, aircraft inspections with drones can capture every inch of the aircraft’s exterior.

Additionally, the data collected by drones can be in visible light or other ranges, such as IR, for an even more in-depth review of the structure. While a human can call out areas of concern, a drone can take it a step further. 

By creating a digital twin of the entire aircraft for immediate analysis and historical maintenance records, you’ll have information both now, and for future reference.

The Takeaways

Traditional aircraft inspections are important, but they’re also time-consuming and cost big money. The faster you complete the inspection, the faster your plane is back in the air, serving your business and passengers.

UAV technology continues to prove itself to be beneficial across more use cases every day.

For aircraft inspections, drones offer users faster inspection times, safer conditions, and more accurate data. Given the numerous advantages maintenance personnel can gain from using drones for visual inspections, adopting drones for aircraft inspections is an easy decision.

So, which drone is right for you? And, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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