Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines has been trialing the use of drone technology to inspect paint and structural damage on its fleet of 36 Airbus A320 family aircraft.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, were developed by Toulouse-based manufacturer Donecle, and will be tested through year-end.

Drones can complete autonomous checks in less than 2 hours, instead of 4-10 hours by technicians performing manual inspections. “Shorter duration of the checks … enables quicker availability of the aircraft in daily flight operations,” Austrian Airlines CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech told ATW.

Under the supervision of an aircraft technician, the drone inspects the aircraft exterior using state-of-the-art, patented laser technology. The drone—which flies autonomously to inspect all areas of the aircraft—takes a high-resolution image every second. On the basis of these images, the accompanying software automatically identifies damage to the structure and paintwork, such as missing aircraft labels. The technician then examines the damage in detail on a tablet and makes a final decision on the repair.

“From September, our 17 Embraer E195 fleet will also be checked by the new technology,” von Hoensbroech said.

“Another option would be to deploy the drones worldwide in our technical partner companies. In this way, we could obtain an accurate picture here in Vienna of paintwork carried out at another location,” Austrian VP-technical operations Michael Kaye said in a statement.

Austrian Airlines is serving as a test case within the Lufthansa Group, which will further develop the technology with Donecle based on the experience gained from its line operations.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at