Korean Air, with its extensive experience in manned and unmanned aerial vehicle development, has developed a technology that can inspect aircraft using drone swarms.
Korean Air held a demonstration event for the aircraft inspection technology using drone swarms on 16 December at the airline headquarters’ hangar.
Drone aircraft inspection has transformed maintenance norms and is 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 metres, drone inspections improve workplace safety and allow for increased accuracy and speed.
Korean Air’s aircraft inspection technology is the first in the world to deploy multiple drones simultaneously, shortening maintenance time and dramatically increasing operational stability.
The airline has developed a drone with a one-metre 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 programme 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, a 60 percent decrease in time, and this will help to improve on-time flight operations. Moreover, the drones, which are equipped with high-performance cameras, can identify objects up to 1 mm in size, allowing for the detection of micro-defects that cannot be seen from above with the naked eye.
Korean Air 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 will work to improve safety and convenience for workers, stabilise operations and increase the accuracy of inspections through continuous trials before officially launching the inspection drones next year.
Seoul, 16 December 2021