Why is NDT important in aviation?

Who doesn’t love a good summer holiday abroad? 

We step onboard our summer flight, confident that the plane we’re travelling in is completely safe. And it is. We get to our destination, have a great time, and then return safely a fortnight later. 

But the work that goes into ensuring that your flight returns in one piece is huge and takes place unnoticed behind the scenes. A massive part of this safety work involves NDT. 

But before we dive into looking at how NDT is important to the aviation industry, let’s have a quick look at the history of safety in the aviation industry before delving into why NDT is so important to this sector. 

A quick history of safety in the aviation industry

It is strange to think that the concept of boarding a plane is a relatively new one. Commercial flights have changed a lot since its birth in the 1920s. Back then, planes would only travel at speeds of about 100 mph, and would only reach a cruising altitude of 3,000 or less. A good job, too, as the cabins were completely unpressurised! This made for a very cold journey. 

Passengers also had to contend with the noise from wind buffeting the metal casing of the aircraft. The whole thing sounds incredibly uncomfortable and quite unsafe!

In 1926, the US became the first country to bring in legislation that required aircraft to be inspected and accidents to be investigated. Since that point there has been a steady development of inspection and testing for safety and maintenance within the industry.  

The aviation industry is now one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. And for good reason! In 2019, 38.9 million flights took off around the world. That’s a lot of people! All of whom are putting their lives in the hands of the engineers, maintenance staff, ground crew and pilots involved in the industry. 

To ensure the safety of passengers and crew, all aircraft must undergo regular maintenance and inspection. A key part of this process is non destructive testing (NDT). NDT is a vitally important part of the aviation industry. 

What is non destructive testing?

Non destructive testing (NDT) is a type of testing that is used to evaluate the properties of a material, component or system without causing damage. NDT methods include visual inspection, ultrasonic testing, radiographic testing and liquid penetrant testing. NDT is an important tool for quality control and failure analysis.

NDT can be used to detect internal defects, measure thicknesses and characterise materials. NDT is also used to monitor the condition of structures such as bridges and pipelines. NDT plays an important role in safety and quality assurance.

What are some of the challenges?

NDT is a vital tool for detecting hidden defects in aircraft components. However, it can be a challenge to carry out effectively due to the wide range of materials used in aircraft construction and the often-complex geometry of components. 

As technology has improved, additional NDT tests have been developed that help technicians inspect components that are irregular in shape and cannot be effectively tested using more traditional techniques. For example, Eddy Current testing uses an electromagnetic current to detect flaws on the surface or in the sub-surface of assets and can be used on components that have complex geometry. 

What are the benefits? 

There are many benefits of NDT in the aviation industry. 

1. Ensures safety

This one is the most obvious and the most important reason non destructive testing is regularly used in the aviation industry. NDT helps to identify potential dangers before they cause serious damage or accidents. It can be used to inspect everything from aircraft parts to runway surfaces. Ensuring all components are structurally sound is of the highest importance when the safety of passengers and crew is in question. 

2. Saves money

It also helps to ensure the safety of aircraft and components, and can save time and money by identifying potential problems before they occur. In addition, it is often faster and less expensive than destructive testing methods.

3. Used on new and in-service components

NDT can be used on both new products and in-service components. This is because it is a non-invasive method that does not alter the properties of the material being tested. This makes it suitable for in-service maintenance as well as during the assembly and construction of aircraft. It can be used to check for wear and tear on components, which can help prevent breakdowns and failures in flight. 

NDT ensures safety

Safety is paramount in the aviation industry, and NDT helps ensure that aircraft are safe for passengers and crew alike. By catching potential hazards before they cause harm, NDT helps make flying a safer experience for everyone involved.

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