Easyjet to trial drones, virtual reality glasses, e-paper to improve operations

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

We were reminded of one of our favourite quotes from sci-fi writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed,” when we read easyJet’s announcement that the airline will use unmanned drones to inspect its aircraft.

Drones
The drones will be programmed to assess the carrier’s fleet of Airbus A319 and A320 planes, reporting back to engineers on any damage which may require further inspection or maintenance work. As EasyJet put it on Twitter: “Drones will help carry out detailed inspections, allowing us to move around every axis of the aircraft.”

EasyJet’s engineering head, Ian Davies, said: “Drone technology could be used extremely effectively to help us perform aircraft checks. “Checks that would usually take more than a day could be performed in a couple of hours and potentially with greater accuracy. […] For example, dones could be used to pick up damage caused by a lightning strike, the kind of incident that can require a full day of inspections.”

EasyJet is working with the Coptercraft and Measurement Solutions companies as well as Bristol Robotics Laboratory on modifying existing technology so it can bring in the drones. Dr Arthur Richards, head of aerial robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “Aircraft inspection is a great application for drones. Coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, they can get accurate data from really awkward places.”

The airline hopes to introduce the drones as early as next year following trials in the next few months.

Virtual reality glasses
EasyJet also announced that it was looking at deploying new technology to enable a remote engineering team to see exactly what a pilot or engineer is seeing using virtual reality glasses.

The glasses use the world’s first high definition see-through display system, providing augmented reality to help easyJet remotely diagnose a technical issue. At the moment engineers and pilots email pictures and call Easyjet’s Operations Control Centre to try to resolve issues over the phone, but with the wearable technology they will be able to relay images directly back to base.

According to easyJet, the technology will be especially useful in some of the airline’s more remote airports across its network. Initial trials are already underway for the glasses and Easyjet expect to be using the equipment later this year.

E-paper
Besides equipping pilots with Panasonic Toughpad tablets to replace laptops and printed navigation charts, easyJet also intends to use e-paper technology developed by Sony to replace printed forms that cabin crew need to file before or after a flight. The device has a 13.3 inch screen – the equivalent to A4 – is as easy to read and write on as paper and has a battery life of up to three weeks.

This could see easyJet completely eradicate printed forms in the cabin, realizing an entirely paperless plane. Completed forms can be quickly saved into a central database enabling the airline’s operational team access to information on all of the aircraft. Trials will start in the coming months.

Operational efficiency
EasyJet is trialling the new MRO-related initiatives (video here) in an effort to eradicate aircraft departure hold-ups caused by technical issues by 2020.

Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall said the new technology will help the airline run more “effectively, efficiently and safely”. “The advantage of these emerging technologies is threefold – freeing up our engineering team to undertake more skilled tasks, keeping our costs down which in turn keeps our fares low and helping to minimise delays so maintaining our industry leading punctuality,” McCall said.

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