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Drones to inspect damaged planes

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 01:51

A British airline is investigating the use of drones to inspect planes which may have been damaged after flying into birds or being hit by lightning. EasyJet says the technology is likely to be more efficient and effective than man-power alone. Suzi Butcher reports.

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Damaged planes can be costly for airlines - they tie up engineers' time and leave passengers waiting. But British airline EasyJet says it hopes using drones to inspect damaged planes will speed up the process. The drones can be programmed to make an initial scan and assessment of the planes. And Head of Engineering Ian Davies says it is more efficient for the engineers. SOUNDBITE (English) IAN DAVIES, HEAD OF ENGINEERING FOR EASYJET, SAYING: "They spend ninety percent of their time inspecting the aircraft where there is no damage. The idea here is to isolate the damage quickly and then use the human being to do the damage assessment more quickly. So this is not about deskilling the process, it's about using the human being in the best most efficient way." EasyJet's drone development is still in its early stages and the airline is working with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory to perfect the process. Arthur Richards says the idea of inspecting planes was a new idea for the laboratory team. SOUNDBITE (English) ARTHUR RICHARDS, HEAD OF AERIAL ROBOTICS AT THE BRISTOL ROBOTICS LABORATORY, SAYING: "We are continually excited about the idea of drones for inspection. It's a role that they are very good at. So we thought about bridges and chimneys and difficult to get at infrastructure. Strangely enough I work in an aerospace department and we hadn't really thought about inspecting aircraft with them, so it was a very nice discovery for us." The airline says there is more work to be done in accurately controlling the drones, but it plans to begin trials in the next few months. And it hopes it won't be too long before the drones are regular members of the maintenance crew. SOUNDBITE (English) IAN DAVIES, HEAD OF ENGINEERING FOR EASYJET, SAYING: "I think, two to three years time we will be actively using this. This is not expensive technology, we know that, and the cost of these are coming down all of the time, so I think there is a possibility, a good possibility that within three years we could actively be using this." EasyJet says the drones are part of a range of technology innovations aimed at improving services for passengers and making sure their planes spend less time on the ground.

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Drones to inspect damaged planes

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 01:51