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Airbus Uses Drones to Improve Inspection Process

Not only does the aircraft manufacturer’s new method speed up the inspection process, but it also minimizes the risk posed by conventional inspection techniques.

Inspecting a large passenger plane is never going to be a fast job, but Airbus has come up with a solution to help speed things along. Last week at the Farnborough International Airshow, the aircraft manufacturer revealed that it is using drones to expedite and even lessen the risk involved in the inspection process.

Conventional inspections are conducted by human operators who usually need to use lifts and cranes in order to carefully examine a plane’s hull, components and overall structure. Not only does this visual inspection take a considerable amount of time, but it also involves some risk to the inspector, who may be working at a significant height.

Airbus has announced that it is now using a drone fitted with an Intel RealSense camera to inspect its planes. Controlled by a grounded operator, the drone circles an aircraft, snapping photos as it moves. These photos are uploaded onto a digital 3D model of the plane, which is then thoroughly examined by inspectors.

While gathering inspection data the conventional way can take up to two hours, Airbus’ innovative drone-based system can finish the job in mere minutes. Of course, the data still needs to be thoroughly processed and analyzed by inspectors, but Airbus feels that this is an improvement on a system that can pose considerable risk to the safety of its staff.

“It’s good for the safety and comfort of our inspectors,” said Nathalie Ducombeau, Head of Quality at Airbus in a video posted on Engadget. This process, she explains, allows inspectors to “concentrate on the analysis of the [inspection] data” and minimizes safety concerns.

At present, Airbus is applying this new inspection method to its A350 family, but says that it intends to roll the process out to its A330 craft in 2017 and eventually, to its entire fleet.

[Photo: Engadget]

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