Drones to address productivity issues in aircraft maintenance

ST Engineering’s DroScan authorized to carry out general visual inspections.
Recently, ST Engineering has received authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to use its in-house developed drone solution, DroScan, to carry out general visual inspection (GVI) during aircraft maintenance. The company notes that it is the first in Singapore to receive the authorisation and will be used in ST Engineering’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in Singapore.
Its in-house developed drone solution, DroScan, which uses automation and smart analytics capabilities, will be used to carry out visual inspections.
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In an interview with Singapore Business Review, ST Engineering UAV business unit vice president Teong Soo Soon explains the significance of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in addressing productivity issues during aircraft maintenance. “ST Engineering aims to provide greater value add and support to customers, and raising productivity whilst reducing turnaround time for maintenance work is one of the ways we are doing so,” he added.
Q: What will be the implication of ST Engineering’s authorization on the usage of unmanned aerial systems in inspections?
Teong notes that the use of drones in carrying out visual inspections of aircraft is part of the aviation industry’s drive towards automation and use of other smart technologies to enhance work processes and quality.
The use of UAS is said to help eliminate the risk of working at heights since the inspector is able to conduct general visual inspection in the comfort of an office.
ST Engineering said it has undertaken extensive research and trials to ensure that under acceptable lighting conditions, quality of images and videos captured by the drone solution is comparable to what an inspector sees during a direct visual inspection. The comparison is based on acuity, resolution, colour and angle of viewing, etc.
Furthermore, built in controls such as flying the drone at no less than a minimum distance from the aircraft, geofencing, as well as a physical tethered line system were included to ensure the safe operation of DroScan.
However, Teong notes that one minor disadvantage in using drones for inspections is the need to coordinate with other maintenance teams for concurrent work activities.
“The operational team will also strictly follow a set of setup/operating procedures and go-no-go limits, e.g. wind limits, safe distance from people on the ground,” said Teong.
Q: What is the future of unmanned aircraft systems?
With the pandemic driving many companies across the globe to reconsider the existing norms and operational procedures, Teong notes that UAS is very likely to become more popular or even necessary as the technology can help to address not just productivity issues, but also technician manpower shortages.
ST Engineering, thus, aims to extend the application of DroScan to more aircraft models, including widebody platforms, as well as develop new robotic solutions for inspections that involve contact-based measurements.
“We believe this will give more confidence to customers who are sitting on the fence over the use of UAS in aircraft inspection and maintenance, and pave the way for more widespread use in the future,” Teong added.