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Air New Zealand's latest innovation is all about robots

Continuing it’s streak of innovation, Air New Zealand is trialling the use of robotic technology to maintain the quality of its fleet of aircraft.

Air New Zealand has teamed up with Invert Robotics, a Christchurch-based company that produces inspection robots to perform remote inspections.

These robots can climb any stainless steel surface and use advanced sensors and high definition cameras to feed detailed inspection data instantly to an inspector for immediate analysis.

According to Invert, these inspections notable for being efficient, safe, accurate and repeatable.

Invert’s robotics technology was originally designed for the dairy industry, where farm managers used the remote-controlled inspection equipment to detect damage inside milk tanks – they would send the robots into the tanks and scan the high resolution footage in real time.

Now, Air New Zealand is taking the technology into a different field entirely. However, Bruce Parton, Air New Zealand chief operations officer, was quick to draw the similarities between the two, saying the airline first started to explore the use of robotics after recognising the shape of a milk tank closely resembles an aircraft fuselage.

Parton says the robotic technology primarily helps to ensure the safety of Air New Zealand employees and customers.

He says, “Currently to inspect the top of the fuselage, as we do following incidents such as lightning strikes, engineers need to work at heights of up to eight metres. Using technology that can identify defects not immediately visible to the human eye and do so from the ground has the potential to make aircraft maintenance safer and more reliable.”

According to Parton, “Exploring the introduction of robotic technologies supports the airline’s innovation strategy and if we can help pioneer an aviation application for this technology it could create a significant new commercial opportunity for this home grown Kiwi business.”

Invert Robotics chief executive officer James Robertson says it’s 'hugely exciting' to be working collaboratively with Air New Zealand on this project.

“While initially designed as a dairy solution our patented robot has proven versatile lending itself well to aircraft deployment. We look forward to continuing to work with Air New Zealand to develop the airline application for this technology so that it can potentially be rolled out across the global aviation industry.”