ATLANTA--Delta Air Lines through its Delta TechOps is working on being able to use unmanned aerial vehicles on the airfield--outside of a hangar--to conduct inspection work on its air transport aircraft at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and others.
“It’s coming,” David Piotrowski, senior principal engineer at TechOps, told a MRO Americas 2019 panel April 11. “It’s going to happen, I just don’t know on what timeline.”
“It’s still probably a few years before it gets accepted” by regulators, agreed Josselin Bequet, CEO and cofounder of Donecle. He predicted a regulator-approved operation will arise somewhere in the world within a “couple of years.”
Donecle provides drone-based inspection services inside hangars now. Some companies have announced these projects, for instance AFI-KLM, Avianca, Airbus and El Al Israel Airlines. Like Delta, it also is pushing for unscheduled maintenance tasks such as post-lightning and hail damage inspections done outside hangars on the ramp.
Bequet told Aviation Week Network’s MRO Americas that regulators--he did not specify who--are most concerned with so-called flyaway risk with drones; the fear that the UAVs get loose and interfere with airport operations or worse, run into a flight.
One obvious near-term solution may be tethering the UAVs. Donecle started testing and showing regulators 2-3 years ago, including at least one yearlong experiment. “Part of the issue is that regulations are very different in different countries at different airports,” he said, slowing regulatory adoption.
Piotrowski said Delta envisions several, specific locations having the capability. Another idea could include having a deployable field unit that can go to an airfield where aircraft are parked for inspection after experiencing hail or lighting strikes. The airline is talking with regulators over how to go about getting approval, including possibly a blanket waiver of some kind.
“At Delta we absolutely want to fly outside,” Piotrowski said. Delta aircraft experience 1,800-2,000 lighting strike events each year, spurring inspections including at airfields without adequate hangar space.