Christian Suttner, the co-founder and managing partner of startup incubator Starburst, has predicted that drone-based aircraft maintenance inspections will go mainstream by 2020.
“The second wave is coming,” Suttner said, speaking at MRO Europe in Amsterdam. “In 2019, we will see the first real roll outs. Then, in 2019-20, a big rush will come.
Companies like UK LCC easyJet were early adopters of drone-based inspections, which can be used to view difficult-to-reach areas of the aircraft, minimizing downtime and cutting costs.
A handful of specialist suppliers have emerged in this field, including Donecle, Luftronix, Mainblades Inspections and MRO Drone (a JV between Blue Bear and Output 42).
Suttner believes that the half-dozen airlines that have backed this technology will begin to see solid returns, as their rivals struggle to catch up. “It will take them [the rivals] another year to work out their processes and another year for full roll out,” he said.
Meanwhile, the early adopters have had the systems developed to fit their own operations. “They are three years ahead. [After incidents like lightning strikes], they are getting their aircraft out a day earlier than planned. That’s good money; it’s significant. This is a huge timesaver that is coming and the ones who were working with this earlier will have a huge lead time reaping the benefits.”
For the time being, drone-based inspections can only be performed in the hangar, for safety reasons, but Suttner sees this changing within a few years.
“This will be resolved,” he said, although the risk of airport-based drones being blown into aircraft engines in high winds will need to be addressed.