May 7 - Low-cost carrier easyJet continues to win a larger share of the European market. Joanna Partridge looks at how it intends to use technology to stay ahead of the competition - including drones, bespoke apps and paperless cockpits.
Forget a bird's eye view - this is a drone's eye view. This might be the way low-cost airline easyJet inspects its planes in future. It's developing drones which can be programmed to scan and assess any damage on the outside of aircraft, caused by lightning strikes, or birds. It's all about making maintenance more efficient and getting planes back into service faster, says Ian Davies, the airline's Head of Engineering. SOUNDBITE: Ian Davies, Head of Engineering for easyJet, saying (English): "It's no publicity stunt. Believe me, this is a viable way of actually examining large areas of an aircraft. It's a labour-intensive system that we use now, obviously we have to use human beings to do this. They spend 90% of their time inspecting the aircraft where there is no damage. The idea here is to isolate the damage quickly." easyJet have been working with firms Coptercraft and Measurement Solutions, and Bristol Robotics Laboratory on the drones. But they may not be in service for another 2-3 years. There are various challenges - especially when flying drones outside, says Arthur Richards from Bristol Robotics Lab. SOUNDBITE: Arthur Richards, Head of Aerial Robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, saying (English): "To do it outside, the big challenge is the wind. We don't have drones that are robust enough and controlled well enough, at the moment, to be able to work certainly, they can work outside but you really want them to be able to work close to anything you value, because they'll simply get blown around." PTC This video camera technology is also being trialled by easyJet along with firm Vidcie. The idea is that engineers will use these cameras to film planes which might have been damaged. And then a live, real-time video feed of what the camera is seeing will be relayed back to the maintenance team at base. The UK airline was showing off a fleet of new technologies at its Luton Airport headquarters. From reducing weight by removing heavy printed navigational manuals to make cockpits paperless. To developing bespoke apps to make it easier for engineers to replace faulty parts. easyJet hopes the technologies will save it thousands of pounds. And its approach to business seems to be working. Latest results showed it carried 10% more travellers in April than a year earlier. Alastair McCaig is from IG. SOUNDBITE: Alastair McCaig, Market analyst, IG, saying (English): "I guess easyJet have maybe benefitted from the demise of Ryanair and managed to acquire a decent slice of their business. They've also managed to expand, gaining one or two longer routes, certainly one to Moscow had been one highlighted at the tail end of last year, which is just eating into some of the larger airlines, the likes of British Airways for instance." easyJet hopes investing in technology will make it more efficient, able to keep fares down and keep pressure on its rivals.