AAR is starting a one-year trial using a Donecle drone for aircraft inspections at its Miami facility. This follows demonstrations of various drones this spring and is part of AAR’s broader investment in MRO digitization.
Because aircraft inspections by drone are not an approved FAA procedure, AAR will spend the next year performing the task by drone and in parallel, by its current manual process, to gather data.
Today’s process involves putting scaffolding around an aircraft and having 1-2 technicians manually inspect the aircraft and document visible discrepancies, says Rahul Ghai, AAR’s chief digital officer. The inspection process typically takes 10-12 hours.
He conservatively estimates at least a 50% time savings by using a drone for the same inspection process—plus the safety benefit of technicians not having to climb around an aircraft.
Four safety inspectors in Miami have been taught how to use the Donecle drone and inspect the images it generates. AAR selected its Miami facility because of the mixed narrowbody and widebody fleets is services. The MRO is initially going to focus on narrowbody inspections but could expand it to widebodies as the trial progresses, says Ghai.
He expects today’s manual process that involves a technician filling out a report, which leads to a work card and then a maintenance activity to evolve into one seamless digital workflow in the future—where a “technician with a mobile device could start receiving dynamic work assignments based on the data we are collecting.”
AAR will be the first customer to operationally use Donecle’s drone on the Boeing 737—the drone’s previous use cases had been for Airbus aircraft. Because of this, after receiving its first Donecle drone on Oct. 1, it spent the first few days recalibrating it for a mixed fleet of narrowbodies.
Donecle says the drone includes its “latest update of our image analysis algorithms, which will assist the inspectors in the detection of defects and damages (including lightning strikes) on the surface of the airframe.” Each defect is categorized and pinpointed to a specific place on the aircraft structure.
AAR’s contract includes 150 scans over the one-year contract. It will start by doing 10-15 in the first 30 days and then ramp up the number each of the next few months. It has the ability to go beyond 150 scans, if required.
“Over the year, if we see good progress, we could add another drone,” says Ghai, who thinks that AAR will learn quickly how to proceed over the next 30-90 days. AAR did not disclose the drone’s price.
The chief digital officer emphasizes that the drone inspections are one part of its investments to make its processes more digital. The bigger picture includes transforming current analog and manual processes and building on what it already has to transform the business.
One example is expanding its PAARts store, which generates $25 million in sales in mostly OEM parts—to include used parts as well--which would include adding digital photos and documentation to each part.