[Avionics Today May 8, 2014] EasyJet is looking at several innovative, technology driven applications to save time and money with current research and development projects, including aircraft maintenance checks performed by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), "paperless plane" operations and three-dimensional virtual reality technology allowing a remote engineering team to see exactly what a pilot or engineer sees.
The London-based carrier is currently working with Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a U.K.-based UAV-maker, Coptercraft, and FMC Technologies' subsidiary Measurement Solution to develop and introduce UAV inspections into its operations next year. The plan is for the UAVs to scan and assess its fleet of 220 Airbus A320 family aircraft and report any damage that would require further inspection or maintenance work back to the engineers.
Carolyn McCall, CEO of EasyJet, said the introduction of UAVs would also allow the "engineering team to undertake more skilled tasks, keeping our costs down which in turn keeps our fares low and helping to minimize delays."
EasyJet is currently trialing the UAVs, and plans on introducing them early next year.
“Aircraft inspection is a great application for drones. Coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, they can get accurate data from really awkward places," said Dr. Arthur Richards, head of aerial robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a partnership between the University of
Bristol and the University of West England.
Ian Davies, head of engineering for the airline, said he believes the UAVs can perform "in a couple of hours" what it would take more than a day for an engineer to do on some aircraft inspections. Along with its plan to introduce UAVs, easyJet is also looking to use a 3D virtual reality and augmented reality technology developed by Epson and Vuzix, designed to allow a remote team to see exactly what a pilot sees in real-time.
"3D augmented reality technology is key to EasyJet reducing longer delays when an aircraft is down route. This will help us get greater clarity on any technical issues which occur hundreds of miles away. By wearing the augmented reality glasses, pilots or engineers down route can transmit live pictures and data to the EasyJet Operations Control Centre at Luton giving them direct access to visual information making it easier for them to resolve any technical issue," said Davies.
The goal of the development is to allow pilots and engineers to use virtual reality glasses, which EasyJet wants to its pilots and engineers to use, especially at the more remote airports along its network throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Finally, the airline is also completing the fitting of Panasonic Toughpads in place of all laptops and printed navigational charts across all of its aircraft by the end of May. The elimination of logbooks is expected to reduce fuel costs by $500,000 per year for EasyJet.
"Every kilo of weight taken off EasyJet’s fleet of aircraft saves around $20,000 per year," the airline says.