Lufthansa, DJI Sign Deal To Develop Commercial Drones
Lufthansa Aerial Services, part of the German conglomerate that owns Europe's major airline, has stepped up its stake in the drone business. The company this week signed a deal with Chinese drone maker DJI to develop unmanned aircraft for a number of commercial purposes, such as inspecting railroads and airport runways. The agreement solidifies the collaboration between the two companies, which have been testing drones for various missions. Lufthansa recently used DJI equipment for a pilot project to inspect wind turbines, a process that could eliminate the need for steeplejacks to scale the towers.
Operating drones for other businesses that don't want to bother with all the training and logistics will be a big market, Lufthansa says, along with plenty of in-house opportunities it can take advantage of. In December, Lufthansa test flew camera-equipped drones in a designated area near the north runway at Frankfurt Airport. Germany's ATC entity, DFS, along with airport operator Fraport took interest in the potential for drones, rather than ground vehicles, to inspect runways and taxiways for foreign object debris. Drones, as demonstrated by the two-hour flight test, also can conduct surveys of structures, topography and other features at an airport. A sister company that specializes in maintenance, Lufthansa Technik, is trying out drones for inspecting aircraft exteriors. Lufthansa also says it envisions a "one-stop UAV-shop" providing services through its consulting arm, drone pilot training with its flight training company, "or even the provision of drone insurance solutions through Delvag, Lufthansa's in-house insurer."