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Drones for flight calibration, inspection services to take off soon

Hundreds of stakeholders at the International Flight Inspection Symposium discuss the future of the technology

21 June 2022 - 19:40 By Isaac Mahlangu
Drones are poised to take over some flight inspection and calibration services in the aviation industry.
Drones are poised to take over some flight inspection and calibration services in the aviation industry.
Image: ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Drones are poised to take over flight calibration duties and other inspection services in the aviation sector, which are at present done by aircraft, vehicles or manually by individuals.

This emerged at the weeklong International Flight Inspection Symposium (Ifis) hosted by the Civil Aviation Authority at the Durban ICC, where hundreds of aviation stakeholders are discussing, among other matters, the role of drones in improving flight inspection and calibration services in the aviation industry.

Atle Holm, a sales director at the Norwegian Special Mission, which manufactures and distributes aerospace equipment that deals with flight inspection and airborne surveillance, said though the challenge was blending drones into airline traffic, drones were already making inroads in providing solutions for the industry.

Holm said flight calibration, which includes checking navigation systems and ensuring radar systems are working and that aircraft equipment is up to date, could be better left to drones.

He said their company was already using drones for local flight calibration services “on a test phase”.

“The problem is getting drones to work together with normal airline traffic, and at that moment it would be effective to give some of the flight calibration to drones,” Holm said.

He said the challenges were that drones are not allowed to blend with normal airline traffic and drone operations are only done in special places where the airspace gets closed for normal air traffic.

“We are talking about smaller drones, quadcopters that can do the inspections at the airports, which are normally done on ground or near to the airport inspection,” Holm said.

Dr Mathias Fries, a Swiss-based electrical engineer, addressed the symposium on how drones were able to improve signal quality monitoring.

Fries said measuring signal quality and accuracy through Conventional Very High Frequency Omni Directional Range (CVOR) ground checks, which comprise counterpoise edge measurements, where a monitor dipole antenna is placed in specific locations with the help of positioner brackets, as well as far-field measurements at 150m, could now be replaced with drones.

“The measurements are performed within minutes. An orbit flight at 180m radius ... takes about three minutes,” Fries said.

He said the drone measurements provided “more comprehensive information than conventional ground checks”.

Fries said drone checks provided a much more comprehensive overview of the signal quality, allowing the detection of potential degradations at an early stage.

“Drone checks are especially helpful during corrective maintenance, where causes of signal degradations need to be detected and modifications of the system have to be validated,” Fries said.

Fries said drone tests allowed a fast and iterative real time measurements facilitating system tuning and adaptations.

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