Since September 2018, FedEx has been inspecting its planes at a busy international airport using drones that would not normally be allowed to approach the facility. Strict regulations prohibit drones from sharing airspace with planes, but a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot that includes FedEx, as well as drone companies such as DJI and Asylon, could change that to the to come up.
Drone inspection has long been an area of focus for corporate drones, but this program is a real turning point in the FAA’s evolutionary approach to drone regulation. Joel Murdock, managing director of FedEx Express, is optimistic about the future of the company’s drone operations at airports.
“We believe drones could help improve the efficiency of aircraft inspections and maintenance at our global hub at Memphis International Airport,” Joel Murdock told , “and at other airports across the country. We also believe that drones can be used to complement our airport perimeter surveillance and debris detection (FOD) activities on runways and taxiways ”.
A strict regulatory environment
The program began in May 2018 when the US Department of Transportation launched the Integrated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS IPP) Pilot Programs, giving ten leading participants the opportunity to test ten different drone use cases. . The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, in conjunction with FedEx, has been given the green light to test drones for airport operations, and the results of each program will inform future policy decisions regarding drones operating in the United States.
The first year of the program was devoted to the development of flight procedures. FedEx began its first off-airport operations in increasingly operationally complex areas, including locations such as Memphis Riverfront Park, Memphis Redbird Ball Park and the Liberty Bowl Coliseum. FedEx conducted pilot and visual observer training on small unmanned aircraft systems during day and night operations, and developed and evaluated the flight performance of small UASs during simulated missions prior to flying to Memphis International Airport for flight tests.
To understand why this is so important, it is important to understand how strict the current regulatory environment is. “The US Federal Aviation Administration currently restricts the use of drones within five miles of an airport,” explains Joel Murdock. “Through the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority’s UAS IPP, we are working with the FAA to safely test drone use cases at airports. Our findings will help shape future policies regarding the use of drones at and around US airports ”.
Support for general visual inspections of aircraft
FedEx pilot drones focus on day-to-day operations, including supporting general visual inspections of aircraft using high-resolution camera images on the top of the fuselage, wings, and tail sections at the World Hub from Memphis International Airport.
“These drones will identify areas requiring further analysis by inspection staff to determine if repair action is necessary,” said the CEO of FedEx Express.
If successful, the concept is likely to spread. “We hope to be able to continue testing the use of drones at Memphis International Airport, and possibly other airports important to our operations in the future.”