Drones to offer automated safety checks to airlines

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Drones are a bit of a controversial topic at the moment, with many governments and organisations around the world trying to figure out how to give them enough freedom so that operators can find all sorts of weird and wonderful uses for them, whilst also preventing nefarious individuals from causing havok or invading privacy. However one use that few are likely to have a problem with, is using automated drones to give aircraft a quick fly over for safety checking areas of the plane which are typically hard to reach or view in detail.

EasyJet has become the first to use the technology, sending a pre-programmed drone to hover around an aircraft in its hanger at Luton airport to inspect its roof, the tail and other areas of the plane which are usually out of reach. The airline believes the tests are just as comparable as sending someone up to look in person and it takes far less time, potentially making the whole system of pre-flight checks much more efficient.

The drone has built in proximity sensors to make sure that it never crashes into the craft, but due to the checks taking place in doors, it is very unlikely that anything would cause it to veer off couse – such as adverse weather conditions.

However beyond just generic inspections, it’s also thought that the drone technology could be vital in making sure a plane is safe for use after an accident such as a bird or lightning strike. In those instances, passengers and staff would expect a comprehensive inspection, so having close up HD video and images of the whole plane could enable problems with its structural integrity to be spotted, when they might otherwise have been missed.

‘We do suffer delays and cancellation because of lightning strikes currently where we need to inspect the aircraft thoroughly after the incident. To do that takes a lot of man hours,” said Easyjet’s head of engineering, Ian Davies (via DM).

‘This technology will allow us to do it quicker, will give us a permanent photographic record and it will cut down the time it takes to get the aircraft back into service,” he said.

The drones, which are much larger than your average commercially available quad-copters, are currently continuing usage as part of the trial, but if they perform as well as expected with no hiccups, we could see this sort of technology expanded to the rest of Easyjet’s hangers around the country and Europe. It’s also expected that other airlines will be watching, as if any cost cutting can be made, they will want to hear about it.

Image source: Easyjet

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.