Korean Air develops world’s first aircraft inspection technology using drone swarms

Korean Air, with its vast experience in developing manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, has developed technology that can inspect planes using drone swarms.

Korean Air held a demonstration of aircraft inspection technology using drone swarms on December 16 in the hangar at the airline’s headquarters.

Aircraft drone inspections have transformed maintenance standards and are being introduced by airlines around the world. Whereas maintenance specialists previously had to visually inspect the aircraft fuselage at heights of up to 20 meters, drone inspections improve workplace safety and allow increased accuracy and speed.

Korean Air’s aircraft inspection technology is the world’s first to deploy multiple drones simultaneously, reducing maintenance time and dramatically increasing operational stability.

The airline has developed a drone that is one meter in 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 is not functioning, the system is set to automatically complete the mission using the remaining drones.

When four drones are operated simultaneously, the usual visual inspection time of around 10 hours can be reduced to around four hours, a 60% decrease in time, which will help improve on-time flight operations. In addition, drones, which are equipped with high-performance cameras, can identify objects up to 1mm in size, allowing the detection of micro-defects that are not visible from above to the naked eye.

Korean Air shares inspection data via the cloud, allowing employees to easily verify inspection results anywhere and anytime. The airline also applied a collision avoidance system and geo-fencing to maintain safety distances from surrounding facilities and prevent escapes from the mission area.

In addition to developing this new technology in accordance with government policy to enhance the competitiveness of the aviation MRO industry, the airline also revised the regulations to improve drone maintenance procedures such as the requirement for the presence of security personnel in addition to pilots and engineers.

Korean Air will strive to improve worker safety and convenience, stabilize operations, and increase inspection accuracy through continuous testing before officially launching inspection drones next year.

Seoul, December 16, 2021

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