Drones for aircraft inspections are spreading well beyond global MROs and the world’s largest airlines.
For example, Colombia’s Avianca is planning to use drones and cameras to do some aircraft maintenance inspections. At present, the drone approach has not been approved for by any airframe OEM or regulatory authority for inspections. “So we are reviewing the state of art and waiting for the approval of different authorities and aircraft manufacturers,” explains Miguel Angel Montoya Estrada, Avianca’s VP of engineering and maintenance.
Estrada says his airline chose the drone approach in order to save time in inspections and improve inspection quality by being more precise about the location and evaluation of damages. Inspection by drones should also reduce maintenance costs and facilitate the execution of inspection task cards. And Avianca is, like other airlines, undergoing a digital transformation and adopting new technologies.
The Avianca MRO manager says his department is evaluating all the drone and camera equipment available on the market. At this moment, he is working with Airbus and Donecle and testing their equipment. Donecle drones are 100% autonomous and require only a single operator, with no pilot.
The company estimates that Donecle drones can reduce inspection time from eight hours to 30 minutes and says these are the safest drones on the market with strong protections to prevent damage to aircraft. Laser technology positions the drone precisely, both inside maintenance hangars and outdoors, without any GPS. The Donecle drones are untethered and connected via wireless.
Avianca’s next steps, along with getting those OEM and regulatory approvals, are completing the integration of the entire system as a line map, including the structural repair manual for mechanics, the 3D scanner and the drone. “OEMs needs to incorporate the drone as inspection equipment and get approval by authorities,” Estrada explains. “The operator needs to evaluate internally with local authorities to get approval.”