ANA tests drone’s-eye view for plane inspections

All Nippon Airways flew a drone to check for damage on a passenger aircraft Tuesday, a new use of technology seen reducing flight delays.

The ANA Holdings unit conducted the experiment at Osaka International Airport in the afternoon. A drone carrying a camera ascended to about 16 meters above the ground and scanned a 57-meter-long Boeing 787 parked in front of a hanger. It flew in an automated mode at a speed of 1 meter per second while capturing images of the midsize jetliner from above, then landed after about 10 minutes.

Planes receive scratches and dents from lightning and other sources. Based on the severity and location of the damage, a decision is made whether to continue flying the plane or repair it.

Currently, maintenance staff conduct such inspections by visually checking for damage from an aerial work platform. This time-consuming process can cause flight delays or cancellations. With ANA adding new routes and increasing flights, mainly for international travel, the carrier seeks to raise efficiency.

The company will analyze the data captured by the drone to develop a faster inspection method. Yet several hurdles need to be cleared, including coordination with airplane builders in updating inspection and maintenance guidelines as well as regulatory changes to allow operations of drones, currently banned in and around airports.

The chief director of the ANA Digital Design Lab said the technology “is not ready for immediate application but it has great potential to improve efficiency and the safety of work processes.”

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