Vaccine rolling out; B737MAX in service; Airbus sales going strong: Is aviation ready for drones in 2021?

Vaccine rolling out; B737MAX in service; Airbus sales going strong: Is aviation ready for drones in 2021?



4 min. read

"With airlines expected to bleed cash at least until the fourth quarter of 2021, there is no time to lose."

Alexandre de Juniac, CEO at IATA

The good news right upfront: aviation seems to make a strong return in 2021. Despite a nightmare 2020 with massive fluxes in passenger volumes, countless aircraft groundings and many lost jobs, there are reasons to be hopeful for 2021. Everyone starts to embrace a mindset of how to adapt to the new normal and tries to find ways to do things better, more efficiently, and cost effectively. Although having slowed down in the last months, the need for efficient upkeep is still required and that’s exactly where our solution helps most. So what does 2021 hold for drones in aviation? Here are four signs why we dare to believe that the coming year will be better than the one just gone.

Vaccines starting to roll out

Thanks to the gradual rollout of vaccines and the lifting of travel restrictions, passenger flights are now starting to resume again. In its “Outlook 2021” the air traffic control organization Eurocontrol predicts that traffic for the whole of 2021 is going to recover to 51% of 2019 levels. 

Airbus sells 500 aircraft

Positive news also from Airbus early in 2021. Despite air travel having been reduced to a near zero, the aircraft manufacturer was close to delivering 560 aircraft to customers in 2020. While this number is well short of the record 863 aircraft handed over in 2019, it still can be considered as a success given the widespread groundings of fleets during the year.

The return of the 737 Max

After a 20-month grounding The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has lifted the ban on the Boeing 737 Max. Boeing’s troubled plane returned to American skies in early January, carrying paying passengers in the United States for the first time in almost two years. Additionally, the manufacturer has scored some new orders for the Max in recent weeks. Ryanair, the low-cost European airline, agreed to buy 75 Max jets, and Alaska Airlines expanded an order by nearly two dozen planes.

TUI expects to return to 80% of flights

Revenues and profits from TUI have plummeted since the corona crisis started. However, the tour operator expects to be back at 80 percent of its capacity by the summer. Compared to 2019's profit of 532 million euros, its fiscal 2020 loss attributable to shareholders was 3.08 billion euros.

Why a change is needed

While these are positive signs from the industry, the operational challenges for aircraft operators are still apparent and widespread. Everybody managed to adapt short term, but what about the long term? As we emerge from the pandemic the industry is going to be smaller. Besides this, we’re looking at an evolution of a younger workforce and mechanics near retirement after being in the industry 20-30 years. This urges companies to train a younger, replacement workforce at scale. And this will have to be done effectively. How do you ensure that after this crisis the passenger journey is safe and pleasant? How can you guarantee operations remain safe, efficient and resilient? How can you be better prepared when hit again in the future by similar catastrophic, global threats?

Drones in aviation: is the industry ready?

drones in aviation
Milestone achieved: Mainblades makes outdoor aircraft inspections possible (10/12/2020).

To find answers to these questions, more and more airlines and MROs are looking to leverage the potential offered by new technologies such as drones. For people working from home or not able to come on site because of travel bans, drones offer great opportunities for efficient collaboration between MROs and 3rd parties. Engineers are able to perform inspections remotely based on the data captured by the drone at the hangar and then share inspection results with the team of experts.

Sure, drones and airports don’t always sound like a good match at first. However, you might see them inspecting aircraft sooner than you think. The reason are changes in drone regulations per January 2021. Although not yet fully confirmed, it is likely that there will be substantially more room to operate them in controlled traffic regions (CTR) as directed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). These changes are in line with a milestone that Mainblades achieved recently: being able to conduct automated outdoor inspections. With aviation getting back on track, this is getting the industry closer to a point where drones inspect and evaluate an aircraft in as little as 60 minutes, right at the apron.

What's next?

The aviation industry is still rather conservative. However, the world is changing fast, requiring the sector to deliberately disrupt itself and make a conscious effort to do business differently. This will demand greater collection and sharing of data, and more investment in the digital technologies needed to make sense of that data. It will require agility, flexibility, and innovative thinking.

While the industry has tried to adopt drones for aircraft inspections for the past 10 years (companies such as EasyJet, Delta, KLM, Austrian have worked on this), no-one is actively using them today. However, the post-Covid era may change this. Having been previously side-lined, they are now being re-examined to solve crucial COVID-19 challenges. After all, the need to keep aircraft operationally available while cutting maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) costs is a pressing issue. Aircraft operators therefore may start looking closer at automated drone inspections to reduce downtime, better plan tasks, and optimize parts management.

At Mainblades we are convinced: the future belongs to those who embrace this mindset and push the boundaries of innovation. Is your organization currently doing that? What are you looking forward to most in 2021? Will you be using drones to inspect your fleet this year? Let us know what you think in the comment section or drop us a mail

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