Taking Flight: Are drones the future of MRO inspections?

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

Inspecting aircraft is an indispensable part of the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) process for airlines and other operators. Traditional inspections, however, can be time-consuming, costly, and risky for technicians.

Enter the drone revolution.

Rubb UK sheds light on how drones can transform aircraft inspections, enhancing efficiency and safety in MRO companies.

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

Navigating turbulence in aircraft inspections

Conventional aircraft inspections necessitate visual examination of every component for damage, wear, or other safety concerns. This calls for skilled technicians, special equipment, and substantial time and resources. Moreover, accessing certain parts, like the fuselage top or tail section, can be precarious.

This may be a thing of the past in just a few years, as drones are changing the game for aircraft inspections.

Sporting high-resolution cameras and advanced sensors, they can swiftly and precisely capture images and data from all aircraft parts—even hard-to-reach ones—removing the function safety aspect from inspections. Furthermore, drones can be fitted with thermal cameras to identify overheating or malfunctioning sections.

Drone inspections offer numerous benefits, such as improved accuracy, faster inspections, and reduced costs. High-quality images and data collected by drones can be scrutinised using software and analytics, enabling MRO companies to detect problems early, averting more severe and expensive repairs. Drone inspections are standardised, repeatable, and eliminate any technician subjectivity which may occur in the many hours current inspections take.

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

Trailblazing drone inspections: RAF’s Project ASURVEY

The RAF has initiated a technical evaluation, Project ASURVEY, to explore drone applications in aircraft engineering tasks. Funded by Astra, the project aims to utilise drone technology for crucial pre- and post-flight aircraft inspections, which are currently performed manually. The innovative solution is expected to streamline inspections, with 95% of the aircraft’s exterior scanned in just 30 minutes, without engineers working at height.

Flight Sergeant Andy Fleming, who initially proposed the project, explains: “There’s a real excitement around this technical evaluation and what it can potentially offer to the RAF. Now the drone has been delivered, we’ve started training the right people on how to safely operate it around an aircraft in a hangar. The next step is to teach it the specifics of each tail number so it can clearly identify even the smallest areas of damage. It’s great to see the RAF embracing the cutting-edge inspection technology available, to streamline and improve inspection processes.”

The initial evaluation employs a specialist Donecle drone to survey the Poseidon MRA1 aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth. Engineers are assessing the data after intensive training on safe drone operation around the aircraft. The next challenge is teaching the drone every aircraft’s intricacies for rapid, accurate damage identification, potentially saving hours of work and returning aircraft to the flight line quickly.

 

Drones can make maintenance inspections faster, safer, and more reliable while increasing aircraft availability. We're really excited about working with the RAF on this project and hope it will help to demonstrate the capabilities that these innovations can bring to military engineering.

Co-founder of Donecle
Matthieu Claybrough

Where Rubb comes in

Fabric hangar specialist Rubb UK can support MRO companies in conducting drone-based aircraft inspections, just as we have been supporting traditional MRO activities throughout our 45-year history.

With extensive experience in fabric structures, Rubb UK can craft MRO hangars that offer ample space and protection for safe drone storage and maintenance. This guarantees MRO companies a secure, reliable location to house and maintain both their aircraft and drones, reducing inspection process risks.

Although Rubb has been manufacturing its fabric-tensile buildings since the ‘70s, we still represent a relative niche in the aviation industry when compared to traditional steel-clad and concrete builds. Rubb’s buildings are designed to British Building Standards or Euro Codes regarding wind speeds and snow loadings, so they are placed directly within the same market as these traditional hangars.

How do we convince our clients that their steel-framed, PVC-clad buildings are right for their MRO operations? Just take a look at our track record—our work with industry leaders like easyJet, British Airways, and Turkish Technic speaks for itself.

The final descent

Drones have the power to revolutionise aircraft inspection in MRO companies, enhancing efficiency and safety while cutting costs. By capitalising on this technology, MRO companies can stay ahead of the competition and deliver superior customer service.

With a strategic partnership with Rubb UK, MRO companies can harness the drone technology benefits, minimising integration challenges and regulatory considerations.

Read next: Talking MRO hangars with Aviation Specialist Ryan Clarke