Budget airline easyJet has used a automated drone to conduct safety inspections on one of its aircraft for the first time.
The pre-programmed drone hovered around an aircraft in a hanger at Luton airport in trial of the new technology that the airline hopes to roll out in 2016.
easyJet claims the technology could help to reduce the amount of time an aircraft is out of service when inspections are taking place.
Engineers used the drones to scan the aircraft for signs of damage that could make it unsafe to fly.
Sensors on the drones allow it to fly around the aircraft automatically and high resolution cameras send images to engineers on the ground.
The drones are part of a number of new technologies being tested by easyJet for use on its fleet of aircraft.
It also announced it will be trialing the use of 3D printing to replace parts of the cabin, such as arm rests.
The technology will also be used to print engine parts such as fuel nozzles and fan blades for the next generation of engines the airline has on order.
Speaking about the drone inspections, Ian Davies, easyJet’s head of engineering, said: ‘Safety is our number one priority and so all of these new technologies will be applied by our experienced engineering and flight crew to ensure our leading safety record is maintained.
‘We do suffer delays and cancellation because of lightning strikes currently where we need to inspect the aircraft thoroughly after the incident. To do that takes a lot of man hours.
‘This technology will allow us to do it quicker, will give us a permanent photographic record and it will cut down the time it takes to get the aircraft back into service.
‘We are really confident we have a winning solution of how to inspect a large aircraft quickly.’
The airline, which has a fleet of more than 230 aircraft and employs 237 engineering staff who maintain them, announced the drone trials at an innovation event at Milan’s Malpensa airport.
It also announced it will be working with Airbus on an in-flight prognosis system that will help staff identify faults.
EasyJet said it was also launching a new Apple Watch app to make travel easier for its passengers.
Carolyn McCall, chief executive of EasyJet, said: ‘We have made great strides on our work with drone technology having successfully tested automated drone inspections of our aircraft and we have agreed a new collaboration with Airbus for an inflight prognosis tool.
‘Both of these support our aim of eliminating technical related delays.
‘All of this work is aimed at further increasing reliability of our aircraft and therefore improving our passengers’ experience.’