Drones Are Being Used to Check Planes for Lightning Damage

New uses for drone technology are being identified every day, and this month European discount carrier easyJet has begun testing a new way of inspecting its jets: with an automated drone.

Commercial planes are occasionally struck by lightning and although planes are built to withstand substantial lightning strikes, sometimes the strikes can cause damage.

The easiest way to spot lightning damage is to look for signs on the plane’s exterior, such as burn marks, small holes and missing bits at the plane’s extremities.  Planes are typically pulled from service for a full day for manual inspection for damage.

To reduce that downtime, easyJet is exploring the use of drones, which fly around a plane from about three feet away, using lasers to determine the distance.  Operating drones for this task will free up easyJet’s engineering and digital teams to enable them to perform more skilled tasks.  The drones complete the work in a few hours instead of a full day.

EasyJet is hoping to put the drones into service across Europe within a year, and thinks they could be used for other aviation maintenance-related tasks such as transporting spare parts.