easyJet to use drones for aircraft checks

UK low cost carrier easyJet has confirmed it is working with Coptercraft, Measurement Solutions and Bristol Robotics Laboratory to modify existing technology so that drones can be employed to inspect its fleet of Airbus aircraft.
The drones will be programmed to scan and assess the aircraft reporting back to engineers on any damage which may require further inspection or maintenance work. The drones are currently in development with a view to trialling them in the coming months and introducing them into operation as early as next year.
Ian Davies, head of engineering for easyJet, said: “Drone technology could be used extremely effectively to help us perform aircraft checks. Checks that would usually take more than a day could be performed in a couple of hours and potentially with greater accuracy.”
Dr Arthur Richards, head of aerial robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of West England, said coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, the use of drone technology would generate accurate data from awkward places. “We look forward to working with easyJet to develop safe, effective and efficient drone systems for this challenge.”
Alongside the drone technology, easyJet is looking at deploying 3D virtual reality and augmented reality technology by Epson and Vuzix which enables a remote engineering team to see exactly what a pilot or engineer is seeing using virtual reality glasses. The glasses use the world’s first high definition see through display system, providing augmented reality helping easyJet to remotely diagnose a technical issue.
easyJet said this technology will be especially useful in some of the airline’s more remote airports across its network – the airline currently flies to 138 airports with some as far away as Sharm el Sheikh and Tel Aviv.
Currently engineers and pilots have to email pictures and call easyJet’s Operations Control Centre to try and resolve the issue over the phone. easyJet is also currently trialling similar video technology from Vidcie and XO Eye that allows live streaming between the engineer on the ramp and easyJet’s OCC.
Davies said: “3D augmented reality technology is key to easyJet reducing longer delays when an aircraft is down route. This will help us get greater clarity on any technical issues which occur hundreds of miles away.”
easyJet said it would also complete the fitting of Panasonic Toughpads, in place of laptops and printed navigational charts, in all of its cockpits by the end of this month. This means that the airline is already nearing a completely paperless plane. These tablets will also make easyJet one of the first airlines to use this type of device in all phases of flight and on the ground. By replacing heavy printed log books easyJet expects to reduce fuel costs by around $500,000 each year. Every kilo of weight taken off easyJet’s fleet of aircraft saves around $20,000 per year.
In addition, new ‘e-paper’ technology created by Sony, could see easyJet completely eradicate printed forms in the cabin; this would mean an entirely paperless plane. This new Digital Paper is the latest lightweight design from Sony which makes it feel like the user is writing on paper. Completed forms can be quickly saved into a central database enabling the airline’s operational team quick and easy access to information on all of the aircraft. Trials will start in the coming months.
easyJet recently placed an order to acquire 35 Current Generation A320 Aircraft for delivery between 2015 and 2017 under its existing agreement and 100 New Generation A320neo Aircraft for delivery from 2017 until 2022.