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Why Drones Swarm Korean Airlines Planes?

For many airlines, drones are a safety hazard. Not for this Sky Tea member airlines. Korean Airlines flies to 120 cities in 43 countries, employs 20,000 people, and carried 27 million passengers in 2019. Korean Airlines will actually rely on drones or better swarms of drones to make its maintenance safer.

Korean Air, with its extensive experience in manned and unmanned aerial vehicle development, has developed a technology that can inspect aircraft using drone swarms.

Korean Air held a demonstration event for the aircraft inspection technology using drone swarms in December at the airline headquarters’ hangar.

Drone aircraft inspection has transformed maintenance norms and is being introduced by airlines around the world. Whereas maintenance specialists previously had to perform a visual check of the aircraft fuselage from heights of up to 20 meters, drone inspections improve workplace safety and allow for increased accuracy and speed.

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

The airline has developed a drone with a one-meter 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 fails to operate, the system is configured to automatically complete the mission using the remaining drones.

When four drones are operated simultaneously, the usual visual inspection time of about 10 hours can be reduced to about four hours, a 60 percent decrease in time, and this will help to improve on-time flight operations. Moreover, the drones, which are equipped with high-performance cameras, can identify objects up to 1 mm in size, allowing for the detection of micro defects that cannot be seen from above with the naked eye.

Korean Air shares inspection data through the cloud, enabling employees to easily check inspection results anywhere and anytime. The airline has also applied a collision-avoidance system and geo-fencing to maintain safe distances from surrounding facilities and prevent break-aways from the mission area.

In addition to developing this new technology in line with the government’s policy to strengthen the competitiveness of the aircraft MRO industry, the airline has also revised regulations to improve drone maintenance procedures such as requiring the presence of safety personnel in addition to pilots and engineers.

Drones at Korean Airlines

Korean Air will work to improve safety and convenience for workers, stabilize operations and increase the accuracy of inspections through continuous trials before officially launching the inspection drones next year.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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