Emirates Taps Boeing To Advance Digital Maintenance Technologies

Emirates Airline
Credit: Emirates Airline

DUBAI—Emirates is tapping Boeing’s expertise to jump start technology transformation in its maintenance operations.

The airline and OEM signed a memorandum of understanding Nov. 15 at the Dubai Airshow to partner on digital maintenance. The cooperation will focus on three technology areas: drones and high-resolution cameras for inspections, advanced digital prognostics, and the use of virtual and augmented reality to improve maintenance efficiencies.

According to Ahmed Safa, divisional senior vice president of engineering at Emirates Engineering, the airline has been looking into many of these technologies for years. It was an early adopter of Boeing’s Airplane Health Management service and first began considering drone inspections seven years ago—but the partnership with Boeing will help accelerate implementation.

Safa tells ShowNews Emirates sees “enormous potential” for drones and the airline is particularly interested in the potential of using swarms of drones to further achieve efficiencies. For instance, he says a full lightning strike inspection currently takes around eight hours, but a swarm of drones would cut this time down to around six minutes.

However, Safa says challenges remain with getting regulators on board. He says Emirates would likely first start with drone-based inspections in a contained area inside the hangar before potentially moving to outdoor inspections.

Fueling the digital partnership is Emirates’ desire to go paperless. Safa says the airline is currently “bogged down in physical paperwork” and wants to be up to 96% paperless in the next couple of years.

Safa suggests Emirates could incorporate augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) as an additional layer of technology for inspections. He notes that a technician wearing AR/VR glasses could compare allowable damages from the aircraft maintenance manual to the current condition of an aircraft for a go/no-go decision.

Emirates is also looking to create digital twins of every component on its aircraft for digital monitoring. The airline already has digital twins of its aircraft engines.

Boeing and Emirates did not share specifics about which technology vendors they plan to use or the timeline in which they expect to implement them in the hangar, but Safa notes the airline is targeting technologies with embedded artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for AviationWeek.com, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.