EasyJet Plans To Deploy Unmanned Aircraft To Inspect Fleet

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Coptercraft inspects easyJet fleet.
UK carrier plans to deploy multirotor unmanned aircraft to inspect its Airbus fleet. (Photo: easyJet)
May 19, 2014, 9:09 AM

UK carrier EasyJet said it will apply new technologies, including operating small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to maintain its Airbus fleet. The airline is also developing 3-D virtual reality and augmented reality technology, customized engineering applications and early fault prognosis. It is installing Panasonic Toughpad tablets in cockpits fleetwide.

Based at London Luton Airport and one of Europe’s largest low-fare carriers, easyJet operates 220 Airbus A319 and A320 narrowbodies. Last summer, it placed firm orders with Airbus for 35 new A320s for delivery between 2015 and 2017, and 100 A320neos for delivery from 2017 to 2022.

Earlier this month, easyJet announced that it is working with multirotor small UAS manufacturer Coptercraft, Measurement Solutions and Bristol Robotics Laboratory to use UAS for visual inspection of its fleet. It expects to introduce remotely piloted UAS into operations next year. “Aircraft inspection is a great application for drones,” said Arthur Richards, Bristol Robotics Laboratory head of aerial robotics. “Coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, they can get accurate data from really awkward places. We look forward to working with easyJet to develop safe, effective and efficient drone systems for this challenge.”

EasyJet is working with imaging equipment manufacturer Epson and video eyewear developer Vuzix on 3-D virtual reality and augmented reality technology that would enable an engineering team at a remote location to see what a pilot or engineer sees using virtual reality glasses. Currently, pilots and engineers have to email photos and call easyJet’s operations control center to try to resolve technical issues The capability would be useful in servicing aircraft at more distant destinations, including Sharm el Sheikh and Tel Aviv, the airline said. “3-D augmented reality technology is key to easyJet reducing longer delays when an aircraft is down route,” said Ian Davies, head of engineering. “This will help us get greater clarity on any technical issues which occur hundreds of miles away.”

The airline is also pursuing “bespoke apps” to help engineers return aircraft to service more quickly. It is also implementing a web-based software system from FlightWatching, called Wilco, that captures real-time aircraft system measurements and provides engineers with an early fault prognosis tool. By the end of this month, easyJet will equip all of its cockpits with Panasonic Toughpads serving as electronic flight bags in all phases of flight. The airline is also exploring “e-paper” technology with Sony to “completely eradicate printed forms in the cabin.”

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