EasyJet is trialling the use of drones and virtual reality

Virtual reality headsets, live drone-flying demonstrations, and a 3D printer in action – these were just some of the treats on display at Easyjet’s aviation innovation event in Milan.

Technology enthusiasts flocked to the aircraft hangar inside Milan Malpensa airport, Easyjet’s largest base outside of the UK, to see how the airline sees tech and aviation coming together.

Here are our top picks:

Drones

Drones are the future. But nobody calls them that. Their use in the past in military operations has given them a bad rap, So they’re known in the industry as UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles.

Now a whole range of civilian uses are being discovered, from search and rescue to agriculture. One drone was even sent to help an anxious farmer who was worried about the well-being of a newborn calf that had become lost in the hilly countryside (it was fine).

In the aviation world, drones may be able to help minimise travellers’ most irritating bugbears – delayed flights.

Easyjet has just completed an automated drone inspection of one of its aircraft – they hope that this technique will dramatically reduce the number of hours a plane is out of service, compared to manual inspection. And because everything’s automated, engineers will be able to focus solely on fixing the problem rather than flying the drone itself. Easyjet hopes to be deploying drones within 12 months.

Virtual reality

The team is piloting virtual reality headsets to train staff in managing tricky situations while airborne. The headset transports the wearer into a highly-realistic plane cabin, complete with Easyjet’s trademark orange upholstery. There, crew can be trained through a simulation how to deal with unruly passengers or emergencies.

Telemetry

The stuff of crystal balls, inflight telemetry aims to identify technical problems before they happen. Currently it’s difficult for engineers to accurately pinpoint when certain parts need replacing or may be about to break. But Easyjet’s new collaboration with Airbus involves fault prediction based on real-time information – and knowing what is about to happen could save a lot of money and a great deal of time.

3D printing

The airline will be trialling 3D printing to replace cabin parts such as arm rests.

While this is all very exciting, people can be wary of too much tech replacing human interaction. They might have a point – it was slightly disconcerting to wade through the automated baggage check-in, assembly line-style security and passport ticket gates at Gatwick before encountering a real live human being at the plane door when last flying.

And of course, there’s always the risk of mechanical error. But people make mistakes too, and Easyjet emphasises that its primary concern is for the safety of its passengers. The company sees tech as a way of extending the eyes and ears of its engineers – an enhancement, not a replacement.

Now, all the airlines need to do is work out how to give everyone a bit more leg room, and get rid of turbulence. Easy.

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