KLM, Mainblades Extend Drone Inspection Partnership

The project is part of KLM E&M’s roadmap of digitalizing and automating their future operations.
Credit: Mainblades

The engineering and maintenance division of KLM has extended its partnership with Dutch drone specialist Mainblades related to automated aircraft drone inspections.

The multi-year contract will focus on the next phase of drone inspections by making the technology fully operational across the KLM fleet and will take the necessary certification steps required to inspect aircraft on a regular basis at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

KLM Engineering and Maintenance’s (KLM E&M) ties with Mainblades go back to 2015 when they joined forces to investigate the feasibility of the technology and demonstrating a proof of concept. The last six years produced a series of successful tests showed potential for use cases such as general visual inspections and lightning strike checks across multiple aircraft types. The project is part of KLM E&M’s roadmap of digitalizing and automating their future operations.

“This is an important steppingstone in our strategy towards more efficient and sustainable maintenance operations at KLM E&M” says Serdar Cifoglu, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at KLM. “With several hundred inspections on average per year, the potential resource savings we are expecting are quite significant”

Together, the partners are collaborating to create three-dimensional, digital lidar maps of KLM-operated aircraft comprised of Airbus A330 and Boeing 737, 777 and 787 models so the drone can localize itself within the hangar and navigate around the aircraft safely. “This forms the basis to perform inspections with consistent data output, regardless of where and how the aircraft is parked,” says Dejan Borota, CEO at Mainblades.

After that, the next phase will target drone certification, which both partners are looking to approve as part of the aircraft maintenance manuals of Boeing. The two core objectives for deploying the drone include are the inspection kit, software, and methodology in the Maintenance Organization Exposition. Second, both parties will look to release aircraft inspections with drones under KLM E&M’s Part-145 approval.

Finally, the project aims to integrate KLM E&M’s workforce into the drone inspections. “We get the drone into the hands of the aircraft engineers who will be working hand in hand with our development teams”, Borota says. 

James Pozzi

As Aviation Week's MRO Editor EMEA, James Pozzi covers the latest industry news from the European region and beyond. He also writes in-depth features on the commercial aftermarket for Inside MRO.