Here come the swarms: Korean Air develops “world first” drone inspection technology

Korean Air has developed a technology that can inspect aircraft using drone swarms.

The company held a demonstration event for the aircraft inspection technology today (16 December).

Korean Air said the new technology was the first in the world to deploy multiple drones simultaneously, which it said shortened maintenance times and “dramatically” increased operational stability.

The airline noted that drone aircraft inspection had transformed maintenance norms and was being introduced by airlines around the world. “Whereas maintenance specialists previously had to perform a visual check of the aircraft fuselage from heights of up to 20 meters, drone inspections improve workplace safety and allow for increased accuracy and speed,” it said.

Korean Air has developed a drone with a one-meter width and height, weighing 5.5 kg. The aircraft fuselage can be inspected using four of these drones simultaneously. The company has also developed an operations program that allows the four drones to be programmed to take photos of pre-planned areas. If one of the drones fails to operate, the system is configured to automatically complete the mission using the remaining drones.

When four drones are operated simultaneously, the usual visual inspection time of about 10 hours can be reduced to about four hours, the company said, which represents a 60 per cent decrease in time. The drones are equipped with high-performance cameras and can identify objects up to 1 mm in size, allowing for detection of micro defects that cannot be seen from above with the naked eye.

Korean Air said it shares inspection data through the cloud, enabling employees to easily check inspection results anywhere and anytime. The airline has also applied a collision avoidance system and geo-fencing to maintain safety distances from surrounding facilities and prevent break-aways from the mission area.

In addition to developing this new technology in line with the government’s policy to strengthen the competitiveness of the aircraft MRO industry, the airline has also revised regulations to improve drone maintenance procedures such as requiring the presence of safety personnel in addition to pilots and engineers.

Korean Air said it would now work to improve safety and convenience for workers, stabilise operations and increase accuracy of inspections through continuous trials before officially launching the inspection drones next year.

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