LH Intends Operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

At last, Lufthansa engages in a project that no pilot strike can torpedo – the deployment of drones for commercial purposes. For this reason, the airline decided to liaise with Chinese drone producer DJI to explore fields of practical use.

Drone inspecting runway system at Rhine-Main airport  -  courtesy LH
Drone inspecting runway system at Rhine-Main airport - courtesy LH

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are becoming increasingly in vogue as seen with trial flights operated by SingPost and the test series in the Alps conducted by Swiss World Cargo in combination with U.S. producer Matternet and the Swiss Postal Office.

Spotting new growth opportunities
Next in line is German carrier Lufthansa, respectively its daughter Lufthansa Aerial Services that is part of aviation consultant LH Systems. “Tapping into the drone business is part of our concept to spot innovative fields for additional growth,” states spokesperson Mirjam Eberts of LH.

She adds to this that the pact with partner DJI will build the fundamentals for joint projects conducted not before next year. This rather lengthy period is explained by the imminent objective to find sufficient clients that have a need for continuous UAV services.

According to Mirjam, this could be wind farm manufacturers whose turbines have to be inspected regularly. Up to now, this was done manually using a steeplejack – a time consuming and dangerous maneuver. In contrast, drones can conduct this job quite easily and safely, checking the turbine’s technical conditions, detecting possible hairline cracks and collect data which can provide a basis for maintenance sequences of rotor blades and turbines.

Many fields of application
That drones are the better wind turbine controllers compared to manual work was proven in a pilot scheme Lufthansa Aerial Services has just completed in combination with a wind-turbine producer.

Another field of future application are airport inspections as recently tested in Frankfurt. At Rhine-Main, where drones were deployed in cooperation with airport operator Fraport, traffic control agent DFS and Lufthansa Technik to inspect the upper hull segments of parked LH aircraft together with tarmac and surface controls.   

Basically, the variety of drone applications are widely stretched, states LH Aerial Services. As an example the company mentions deploying UAVs equipped with thermal-imaging systems that can facilitate day-to-day inspections of infrastructure, such photovoltaic systems, electricity and railroad lines and pipelines laid above ground. Aerial technology also makes it easier to monitor crops, construction and extraction sites.

There is still one question left open: how should drones look that will be operated by LH Aerial Services in cooperation with provider DJI. Might they be blue-yellow coloured and show the famous crane on their hull?  At least spokesperson Mirjam Eberts doesn’t explicitly exclude this visual option, adding, however, that “we haven’t had much thought on this yet.”

Heiner Siegmund

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