GE Aviation and partner Avionica are close to gaining regulatory approval for a connection between GE’s flight management system (FMS) and electronic flight bags (EFB) that is designed to increase the interconnectivity between the companies’ core avionics units and portable pilot aids.
Intended to reduce pilot workload and optimize operations, GE’s Connected FMS extends the flexibility of EFBs such as Apple iPads to more tightly controlled onboard systems. Airlines and third-party developers have created myriad EFB apps—from weather to fuel-optimization tools—to help pilots analyze possible route improvements using real-time data. Without a two-way link to the onboard systems that guide an aircraft, however, any work conducted on an EFB is isolated, and route changes plotted on a tablet must be hand-keyed into the FMS. Conversely, changes put into the FMS, either manually by pilots or automatically from an airline operations center (AOC) or air traffic control via the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS), cannot be shared with the EFB. Connecting the two is intended to clear these hurdles.
Intended to reduce pilot workload and optimize operations, GE’s Connected FMS will extends the flexibility of EFBs
Pilots use them to avoid weather and crunch numbers
“It’s enabling all the functionality that we have on the tablets—from charts to maps—to communicate and keep up to date with what’s in the FMS,” says Gary Thelen, GE Aviation’s FMS product manager. “Map applications get out of date almost right away preflight, because as soon as you have a flight-plan change, your EFB application is out of date. From a pilot-workload standpoint, they don’t want to take the time and energy to go back and make those updates into the EFB. With this link, those updates automatically sync with the FMS, and the flight plan in your tablet is always up to date.”
The system’s configuration varies depending on the aircraft platform. An FMS software upgrade is required. The Boeing 737NG architecture, which is being developed first, adds a dedicated Arinc 429 connection from the FMS to the aircraft interface device (AID). The AID is linked to the communications management unit, the interface between ACARS and the FMS. EFBs can connect to the AID via a wired or wireless link—Avionica’s AviONS AID serves as a wireless access point on the ground—and link with the FMS via a secure pairing process. The process is similar to a Bluetooth connection, with the EFB generating a numeric code that must be punched into the FMS.
Once paired, flight plans and other performance data are automatically pushed to the linked EFB, where pilots can use it with specific apps. Sending routes from the EFB to the aircraft mirrors receiving a route-modification message via ACARS, with the exception of a prompt indicating the portable device as the source. The pilot uses the FMS to accept all changes, just as via ACARS. “It operates exactly like an AOC upload would from a pilot’s perspective,” Thelen says.
Many airlines receive initial flight plans via ACARS. For those that do not, linking an EFB to the FMS means routes could be loaded into the tablet and delivered to the aircraft. The inflight environment offers even more opportunity.
The ability to manipulate routes using a graphic interface is available on some newer aircraft, including the Boeing 787. But for most pilots, such capability is only possible on an EFB.
“The power of the [connected FMS] is that the EFB is no longer just a [navigation] display,” explains Sean Reilly, Avionica’s vice president for business development. “I’m looking at a map in front of me. I’m heading right toward that thunderstorm. I have the ability to click on that [flight path] line, drag it around the storm and execute that back into the FMS.”
Developing a secure bridge between the iPad and FMS was a key part of making the system work. GE has created a software development kit for third-party EFB app developers, and the kit includes the necessary security protocols.
Plans call for the connected FMS to be flight-tested on a Miami Air International Boeing 737-800 in the next few months. Barring any unforeseen snags, it will gain FAA approval and enter service with the global charter specialist soon afterward. Then, GE and Avionica plan to “offer it to the broader market,” Thelen says. The market is broad: GE has been supplying FMS since 1984 and has them on more than 12,000 aircraft, including the most popular narrowbody families—the 737 and AirbusA320.
A pilot that flies 737NGs for a U.S. major sees the benefits of the connected FMS but questions its upside: “We already can load our route into the FMS before departure, via ACARS, and independently load the route into various applications on the EFB via the internet,” this pilot says. “The only useful feature would be to synchronize the routes on each platform once we were in the air, but that seems pretty limited.”
As EFBs grow more useful, GE sees them becoming integral to the industry’s push to drive operational improvements through real-time data.
“This is part of a natural progression going on in the industry,” Thelen says. EFB capability is rapidly expanding, due in part to third-party developers creating everything from weather apps to flight analytics tools. “But if you talk to airlines, they still have limited value because the embedded FMS is the only truth—what an aircraft needs to fly,” he says. “Creating a secure connection between the two opens the door to a lot more.”
Singapore-based satellite communications terminal maker Addvalue has a new partnership with Miami-based avionics manufacturer Avionica to start developing a new generation of Swift Broadband aircraft terminals.
Under the partnership, Addvalue will provide satellite connectivity components while Avionica will develop the new system’s avionics and provide system integration and certification. A key component of the partnership is Inmarsat’s Swiftbroadband internet protocol-based network. It will provide the medium through which the new terminal will transmit aircraft data transmissions and voice communications between controllers and pilots.
The terminals are being developed for commercial airliners, Sean Reilly, vice president of development for Avionica, toldAvionics International.
“Using SwiftBroadband terminals will enhance safety by incorporating voice and data communications as part of the SwiftBroadBand operations. We’re taking SBB technology, which is already in use today, and adding air traffic control services over the same network. We see this as a way to maximize the value of aircraft data through the combined use of more real-time and reliable data connectivity,” Reilly said.
The new partnership is Avionica’s effort to continuing ascending within the connected aircraft ecosystem of manufacturers, service providers and operators. In May 2018, the company established a new joint venture with GE Aviation. The joint venture pairs Avionica’s mixture of lightweight flight data management avionics with GE’s extensive lineup of digital aircraft analytics platforms.
Reilly said the partnership with Addvalue will enable the delivery of aircraft data over the SwiftBroadband link to products and services that are provided by GE.
“The terminal is designed to be used as part of the current satellite system. It will be fully integrated into the aircraft’s voice and data communications. We’re strictly using Inmarsat L band,” he said.
Addvalue’s partnership with Avionica will also be its first move to break into the commercial aviation market, as the company’s 15-year history has focused on developing communication terminals for mobile satellite systems within other markets. The company will also provide post-production maintenance support on the new terminals for Avionica’s customers based in the Asia Pacific region.
The two companies expect to bring the new terminals to the market in early 2020.
“The partnership with Avionica signifies a watershed in the history of Addvalue as it extends our business portfolio into the exciting and fast growing aviation market,” Addvalue CEO Colin Chan said of the new partnership.
Avionica has unveiled the second version of its automated aircraft data synchronization service, avSYNC 2.0, with new cloud computing and improved cellular and Wi-Fi downloading and uploading capabilities.
The Miami, Florida-based avionics manufacturer describes avSYNC as a web-hosted software as a serve (SAAS) application designed to optimize the process used by commercial aircraft maintenance engineers and technicians’ processes for acquiring and analyzing aircraft performance data. Now, under avSYNC 2.0, Avionica has added the power of Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service as part of a new product line.
Avionics International caught up with Avionica VP of Business Development Sean Reilly during his trip to London for the 2018 EFB Users Forum to discuss the public unveiling of avSYNC 2.0. Reilly confirmed Boeing 737 private charter operator Miami Air as the launch customer for avSYNC 2.0 and noted that 20 airlines using avSYNC are upgrading to 2.0 as well.
He describes avSYNC 2.0 as focusing on improving Avionica’s ability to support the downloading and uploading of aircraft data, information and software to and from the aircraft.
“We have built the platform around the Microsoft Azure Cloud Services. This not only allows us to make the data easily accessible, but it enables us to keep data in-country, such as Europe [and] China and never travel back to the United States, unless required,” said Reilly.
Aircraft equipped with either Avionica’s mini QAR and avCM communications module or the avRDC with avCM are capable of using avSYNC. The technology’s cache and forward configuration is described by allows aircraft mini QARs and other devices to periodically connecting to the virtual private network (VPN) and servers. Aircraft data such as engine temperatures and pressures conveyed directly to and the company’s mini QAR, secureLINK, aviONS and avRDC avionics over encrypted VPN tunnels.
According to Reilly, avSYNC’s aircraft data transfer capabilities are more focused on enabling FOQA data download and upload while the aircraft is on the ground. While airborne, a different set of data in “small snapshots” is available, although that is not coordinated with avSYNC, he said. The avSYNC service records flight data from the aircraft’s digital flight data acquisition unit after the aircraft has landed and uses a cellular or local Wi-Fi network connection to transmit the aircraft’s FOQA data requirements across Avionica’s firewall to its network operations center and the airline’s virtual machine server and local storage devices.
The minimum local system requirements for operators using avSYNC include two gigabytes of random access memory for the virtual machine. Systems must also feature dual core or better computer processing capability.
“The 2.0 software has increased security features and redundancy for downloading data at different location around the world. This helps keep data in-country if the airline requires. Also, avSYNC 2.0 gives us the ability to push large data content (FMS databases) to the aircraft, not only download QAR data from the aircraft,” said Reilly.
Avionica has expanded and extended the onboard capabilities of its satellite communications and data transmission avionics in recent years through new industry partnerships, supplemental type certificates and industry partnerships. In May, the company formed a new joint venture with GE Aviation, extending an ongoing aircraft edge processing and wireless connectivity partnership the two companies first established in 2016. On avSYNC 2.0, Avionica is working with another division of GE as well.
“We’ve rolled avSYNC 2.0 out to airlines and business jet operators working with our GE Digital partners for C-FOQA data analytics,” said Reilly.
For owners and operators of business aircraft, the opportunity to participate in a corporate-flight operational quality assurance (C-FOQA) program depends greatly on the availability of equipment that records flight data and the ease of downloading and sharing that data. Avionica, a manufacturer of quick-access recorders (QARs), aims to ease those difficulties and encourage more business aircraft operators to realize the benefits of participating in C-FOQA.
Earlier this year, GE Aviation purchased a portion of Avionica (Booth 1351). The deal includes a joint venture under which GE (Booth 224) sells Avionica products and offers its analytics services, while Avionica provides its flight data management solutions.
One result of the joint venture is Avionica’s business jet bundle, which includes the Avionica QAR with C-FOQA and avSync. The QAR is STC’d in more than 300 aircraft models, ranging from the Pilatus PC-12 to the Boeing 777, and recently Avionica has targeted more Part 23 airplanes for QAR installations. In addition to the PC-12, the QAR is also certified in the Cirrus Vision Jet and HondaJet, along with many other business jet types.
“The bundle is about enabling C-FOQA across the business aircraft market,” said Avionica COO Anthony Rios. Many modern aircraft are able to store engine and operational data, but for C-FOQA programs this data needs to be downloaded after a flight then sent to an analysis firm. The process can sometimes take weeks before the analysis is generated, and by then the information is irrelevant. “The key here is that small operators find it difficult to participate in C-FOQA,” he said.
Avionica’s avSync system makes C-FOQA much easier by automatically downloading QAR data and sending it to GE servers for analysis. The new avSync 2.0 system is a cloud-based, private and secure network for transmitting QAR information via cellular networks worldwide. As soon as the aircraft lands and if a cellular connection is available, the data is transmitted. Buyers of the Avionica bundle receive a one-year subscription to the network as part of the $15,000 equipment cost.
Another reason that small operators sometimes don’t see the benefit of FOQA is that with just one or two aircraft, it is hard to generate enough data for meaningful statistics. With C-FOQA, data from many operators is combined to provide comparison benchmarks that are more useful. “C-FOQA allows small operators to participate in a large population of airplanes,” Rios said.
Another QAR benefit is monitoring of important parameters such as engine trends or airframe limit exceedances. For example, a pilot given a rapid descent instruction by air traffic control might inadvertently fly near the flap limit speed but not be sure whether the airplane exceeded the limit. A suspected exceedance has to be examined, which could put the airplane out of service pending a structural inspection of the flaps system.
Knowing precisely whether or not the limit was exceeded by examining QAR data can resolve this problem quickly. “Once the data has already been transmitted, the maintenance officer could look it up,” Rios said.
The Avionica hardware weighs about 15 ounces and uses very little power. On a modern aircraft that generates a large amount of data, the QAR can store about 1,000 flight hours. An older aircraft with less data generated would be able to store about 3,000 hours in the QAR, the company said.
Aviation runs in the family for Simone Drakes. The Barbados-born Drakes’ father was an air traffic controller. Her brother is a commercial pilot.
As VP of engineering for Florida-based avionics company Avionica, Drakes serves as the company’s designated engineering representative (DER) to the FAA. Drakes said that “most avionics firms focus on cookie-cutter designs driven by mandates,” but Avionica can explore further and push the boundaries, which fits well for the outdoorsy mother of one who loves car racing and competitive biking.
Drakes spoke to Avionics about designing STCs, working with the FAA and being at the forefront of the avionics industry.
You got your degree specifically in Avionics. What drew you to the field?
Luck and chance. I started out at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I applied to aeronautical science. Within a week of starting my undergraduate program I switched to aerospace engineering for a greater academic challenge. I did that for a semester, was bored out of my mind, went back and asked for something engineering that was more hands-on, and they put me in avionics.
How did you get from there to where you are today? What are some highlights or decisions you had to make along the way?
I’m sort of an adrenaline junkie; I like fast-paced moving, so when things try to settle down, I move on, I hop on that next train. When I graduated Embry-Riddle in 2001 it was hard to find a job (in the aviation industry because of 9/11). I found a firm making plastic parts. I didn’t like that because I did electronics engineering and I was just playing with plastic — I’m not messing with any electronics! So, I took the first opportunity I got to go to an STC design firm.
I learned most of what I know about avionics engineering at Emteq. I took a junior engineering spot there, then a senior engineer who had worked there and left followed up with me and brought me to Avionica. I was mostly doing EGPWS upgrades, weather radar, ELTs, flight data recorders, large transport category aircraft … I was bored.
Avionica did not have an aircraft certification department when I joined. They just developed the product and then relied on outside help, but I could bring that in-house. I was the only engineer integrating products. I would outsource STC designs they had previously, but then I would do the new stuff, like flight deck integration. I was hired and they said you have two weeks to get something done.
You’ve worked on many certifications or installations for a lot of big and smaller companies. What stands out as the most fun or interesting project you’ve worked on?
When Avionica is releasing something, it’s new, so you have to bring the FAA up to speed on the new technology. The FAA doesn’t know how to certify it and what the compliance requirements should be, what use cases you have to consider.
When I joined Avionica, we were one of two companies that were introducing Iridium SATCOM to aircraft – this new technology provided global voice and data communication for the flight crew with improved reliability and availability at a reduced cost as compared to similar pre-existing aircraft communications equipment.
Being cutting-edge on the avionics Wi-Fi side, the whole cybersecurity piece, we’re looking at things we can implement not only on the integration side but software. We’re implementing a secure OS with Docker support to host operator defined applications that are secured to the point that you can control what accessibility that particular application may or may not have, and that’s all new to the FAA so we’re educating them on what functionality that may or may not have. The system offers over-the-air updates which has long been the desire and challenge for airline operators. Being that cutting edge and leading the way, to me, has been the most exciting.
Walk me through your day-to-day at Avionica.
We have basically three engineering teams that I oversee. One is aircraft integrators–my passion because that’s my background. The second is an R&D group—those two teams work very closely together, which is beneficial to us getting things done a lot faster compared to another STC firm that doesn’t have both teams working in concert – and the other team is flight services. That third team is flight data services, which specializes in taking the black box data and converting it to parameters, what we call engineering units, which helps us understand how the aircraft is flying through the air. Now, with our GE partner, we’re moving toward aircraft health monitoring and analytics. We can say “Hey, you may want to look at this specific parameter of an engine, of an APU, of an AC unit,” to aid in a customer’s ability to predict when they’re going to have to do an avionics upgrade, having malfunctions of a hydraulics upgrade, etc. It’s exciting with GE because they’re driving that analytics, and our products are installed on theirs.
We want to not only give the pilots but also maintenance staff access to knowing what’s going wrong with the aircraft before it even does, so they’re ready to react to both emergency and predictive situations. When you operate an engine over time, the health degrades… the rate is typically established based on tests with a large safety margin. We’re measuring and doing these analytics in real time and proving that the safety margins can be reduced, resulting in operational cost and aircraft downtime savings.
What is working directly with the FAA like?
As an FAA applicant and DER, you’re given an advisor from the Aircraft Certification Office (ACO). We interact with him directly and facilitate and support review of our STC design data through him with other FAA groups such as the flight test group, aircraft evaluation group, structures, acoustics and MIDO (Manufacturing Inspection District Offices).
The flight test group would take a look at how the pilots going to interact with the system. This is all through the ACO. With the structure group, it would be fatigue critical systems like, say, the installation of an external antenna. How do we certify that, how it can be continually maintained, how should it be maintained for continued airworthiness? Even though it’s reviewed and approved by the DERs for compliance prior to FAA submission, that group is the group that approves the flight manual supplement.
With the ACO, I probably talk to my advisor once a week. More so, it’s we suggest and they accept. They might give us feedback, ‘you might want to look at this.’
However, when you’re dealing with new and novel tech, the path to approval has not been defined. So, we might set up a meeting and invite additional parties, like the transport director, to join so we can educate them. You’re basically getting their buy-in on your design practices, how you’re meeting the design requirements and also showing compliance to regulations.
It’s a close-knit partnership—sometimes it can be challenging, and sometimes the FAA can be slow. Our ACO engineer is very much in tune with how industry works and how the avionics industry makes money, so if I have an emergency, he is very supportive. He would walk the ground test procedure through to get it reviewed by a specific person and put pressure on them to get either their feedback or get it approved quickly. And I know that’s unusual. Our processing times are usually in the order of 4-6 months depending on what we’re looking to get accomplished, which is quite fast.
What do you project for the industry five years from now?
More broadband; more data. Really and truly that’s the only space you can guarantee connectivity for aircraft; you can’t put cell towers out in the middle of the ocean.
There will be analytics to improve the reliability of aircraft. Coming from Malaysia Air and Air France, there is a great focus on the ability to communicate with the aircraft autonomously, determine where is it, is it experiencing turbulence, the environment externally and having that data in real time.
The ability to crowdsource this information can be used to enhance operational safety for all aircraft. If Flight 276 from Miami to New York experienced bad weather, that info can be gathered and sent not only to the local news but also any trailing aircraft; the operations department of the airline may choose to adjust altitude because of the weather. Today, we really don’t have the capability to capture that weather information in real time and provide better routing to aircraft that are following the same traffic to enhance the passenger experience and reduce the possibility of failure.
We’re moving toward open architecture to allow different industries to influence and progress technology and progress the aviation space. You don’t have to know how to certify a product on an aircraft to provide growth for the space. It will be more of a partnership space. Our goal is to provide a simplified path between the whiteboard and on-wing aviation, allowing non-aviation technology companies to influence how avionics will be innovative.
After acquiring an “ownership interest” in airborne connectivity and data collection provider Avionica, GE Aviation has deepened its partnership and formed a joint venture with Avionica to take advantage of the two companies’ strengths. GE is now offering Avionica products as part of its digital product line and supporting them via the GE worldwide service network.
Under the joint venture, Avionica will provide flight data management solutions and GE will add its analytics expertise and digital products “to address customer needs in flight analytics, aircraft health management, and flight operations,” according to the two companies. Air transport, general and business aviation, and agricultural aviation flight operations will benefit from the joint venture’s offerings, which will enable “new levels of efficiency.”
Certifications are already in place for Avionica’s quick access recorders in Airbus, Bombardier, Cessna, Embraer, Honda, and Thrush aircraft, with STCs covering more than 300 models and 8,000 units delivered. Avionica’s quick access recorders collect aircraft data and enable transmission of the data via ground networks (cellular and Wi-Fi) and in the air via Iridium satcom.
“Avionica’s wireless data collection and transmission technology enables advanced data analytics by accessing important flight information, such as engine and aircraft health data, wherever the aircraft is operating around the world,” said Avionica president Raul Segredo.
“We are determined to take aerospace data usage, related product delivery, and customer support to the next level,” said John Mansfield, chief digital officer for GE Aviation. “Our customers increasingly require a lightweight solution for data flow to and from their fleet. The flow of rich and continuous data provides insights into asset condition that were not previously possible. Applying physics and data science expertise together, on continuous data, helps create the analytics needed to provide increased detection lead time, reduce maintenance burden and improve asset availability.”
The FAA has granted an approved model list (AML) STC for installation of Avionica’s miniQAR (quick-access recorder) and 4G cellular transmission module on Part 23 turboprops and jets.
The combination of Avionica’s miniQAR MkIII and avCM 4G Cellular Module enables operators to transmit flight data while on the ground and connected to a local cellular network, anywhere in the world. The avCM can also facilitate in-flight entertainment system and electronic flight bag updates, and operational datalink communications. The miniQAR can store up to 3,000 hours of flight data.
The AML-STC covers popular airplanes such as Part 23 Cessna Citations and the Beechcraft King Air series, HondaJet, Phenom 100 and 300, Pilatus PC-12, and more.
L2 did the engineering design and project management and Avionica, in collaboration with L2, obtained certification for the miniQAR and avCM system. “There is growing need for data solutions in all classes of aircraft, and the popular Avionica miniQAR and avCM Cellular Module will make for safer operations and may enable FOQA programs for Part 23 aircraft with newly available data,” said L2 Aviation vice president of operations Dean Rudolph.
Kalitta Air is the first airline customer to implement Avionica’s newly amended supplemental type certificate (STC) for the avWiFi router, allowing the air-line’s flight crew members to use wireless applications—such as electronic flight bags (EFBs)—in all phases of flight. Kalitta Air is also using the avWiFi router for on-the-ground, dual-path Internet access, which provides low-cost broadband data transfer when the aircraft is not flying, as well as for terminal wireless connectivity for automated data downloads. Avionica (Hall 3 DE19) is celebrating its 25th year in business.
The amended STC covers a variety of airframes under an approved model list, including Boeing 777, 767, 737, DC-10, MD-10, and MD11 series and Bombardier DHC-8-200 series. Avionica partnered with Air Greenland to develop the DHC-8-200 STC.
The avWiFi router is available with up to one terabyte of solid-state storage, and it is equipped with two 10/100-Mbit Ethernet ports with an 802.11a/b/g/n access point. The router supports distribution and loading of software parts and EFB operations, including updating “IFE systems, electronic flight bags, onboard maintenance terminals (such as Avionica’s RSU II OnBoard), and other Ethernet-enabled mass-storage systems,” the company said. Other features include automatic download of Ethernet-enabled quick-access records, and the ability to be combined with Avionica’s avRDC (remote data concentrator), which allows the avWiFi to deliver real-time flight data to onboard EFBs and in-flight entertainment systems.
For aircraft without a data loader or an older data loader, the avWiFI combined with Avionica’s avRDC provides wireless 615-4 and 615A data loading. This eliminates the hassle of maintaining stacks of floppy discs and distributing them to each aircraft. Operators can also develop their own applications that can access avWiFi-based features and services.
For aircraft equipped with Avionica’s Iridium-based sat-Link Max satcom, avWiFi allows the use of multiple VoIP cabin handsets to make and receive satellite voice calls.
“This is another important step toward e-enablement and EFB connectivity,” said Anthony Rios, vice president of sales for Avionica. “It builds on our long history in terminal wireless that began in 2003 with our secure-Link. We appreciate Kalitta’s support and assistance in this development project that now allows Avionica to provide our customers with Gatelink services on a large array of aircraft.”
Avionica also announced e-enablement equipment selections by: Cathay Pacific, for its Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon Boeing/Airbus fleet; Icelandair, for 16 new Boeing 737 Maxs; Korean Airlines; and FlyDubai.
Downloading maintenance data has become a big issue in recent years, driven by a number of factors: new-generation aircraft like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 are being delivered with e-enablement; the number of aircraft with connectivity is rapidly increasing (although mainly for passenger and cabin crew use); still providing a potential outlet for more technical data; and the greater awareness in the aviation industry of the use of big data has sparked interest in predictive maintenance to prevent failures and avoid AOGs.
When Cathay Pacific began to look for its second generation, e-enabled, airborne global connectivity programme, a benefit of the Avionica proposal was that it would take responsibility for the technology, hardware, software, and would provide support services for certification – the previous project involved five suppliers. In addition, the company offered small lightweight equipment, modularity and scalability.
Avionica’s solution for Cathay Pacific consists of four modules.
avCM 4G cellular device
The avCM 4G Wireless GSE Module includes a seven-band HSPA+ 4G Cell Module that transfers data on demand with worldwide coverage. The 4G transfer speed is up to 21mbps for upload and up to 5.76mbps for download. That means one hour of flight data can be downloaded in 30 seconds. The unit is easy to install, measuring 5.6cm x 2.4cm x 4.7cm and weighing 71g. This can be achieved with a universal installation kit, or with ARINC 404, or ARINC 600 tray adapters.
avSYNC is a secure, web-hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) that is hosted by Avionica on scalable, redundant servers in hardened server farms. Data is conveyed directly to and from aviONS and avRDC MAX (see below) over secure, encrypted Virtual Private Network tunnels, and transferred to or from any location with internet access. This is the bypass for the expensive ground segment, offering upload and download for a fixed cost per megabyte.
The aviONS Onboard Network Server is the interface between the other components of the system, working via ARINC data links and a local Ethernet. It measures 18cm x 10.3cm x 6.6cm and weighs 1.36kg.
satLINK MAX provides up to four channels of Iridium satellite-based voice and data. It consists of two LRU modules. The data concentrator (avRDCMAX) is installed in the avionics bay, adjacent to the Communications Management Unit (CMU), Multifunction Control Display Unit (MCDU) and audio panel. The Iridium radio module (satLINK MAX) is installed in the fuselage crown area, adjacent to the antenna, minimising RF losses. The two devices are attached by a single Ethernet and power cable. This reduces the overall weight of the installation whilst maximising performance.
No additional controls, handsets, or displays are required as satLINK MAX integrates directly into the aircraft’s existing audio panel and is a plug-in replacement for the ARINC 741/761 Satellite Data Unit, providing dialling capability via the aircraft’s existing ARINC 739 MCDU or ACARS Interactive Display Unit (IDU). The same interfaces are used for data messaging, routable over the aircraft’s existing ARINC 724/758 MU/CMU.
Rob Saunders, Head of Engineering Cost Management & Business Improvement & Lean at Cathay Pacific, says the airline has had a clear design goal for its e-enabled solution for some years. This being full-time cost-effective global connectivity for flight and cabin crew operations. With a growing number of polar routes, Iridium was the obvious choice. Whilst the original solution met the design goal, hardware obsolescence risks and increasing certification costs drove a decision to review the project.
The outcome was that the design goal was still valid but cheaper, simplified solutions were becoming available in the market. As a result the Class 3 EFBs in the cockpit and cabin initiated in 2009 have been deactivated in favour of the new simpler, lighter and more cost-effective solution from Avionica. This new solution provides more capability than those of the OEMs that were previously available at that time – at a fraction of the cost. Saunders’ view is that this is an example of where capabilities in what was previously termed ‘Avionics’ are becoming available from domestic technology roots, the iPad being the game changer in this arena. He predicts that the industry will see more companies producing cost-effectivesolutions that challenge the high-cost culture of aviation equipment. IFE will be an interesting market to watch over the next five years.
The current plan calls for the ‘first of type’ of each aircraft in the Cathay Pacific, Cathay Pacific Cargo and Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair) fleets (see table, page 50) to be completely modified and certified by May 2018. This will involve the complete Avionica package, including the satcom antenna, the avSYNC QAR download and avCM 4G cellular device. To accelerate business benefits, Cathay plans to install just the avSYNC QAR and avCM 4G on the rest of the fleet as this can be completed during a long layover, around 16 hours. This will upgrade the fleet to a common wireless QAR allowing data to be transmitted automatically whenever the aircraft is on the ground, without the need for an engineer to visit the aircraft and extract the information on media.
More importantly, the Avionica ONS will provide cabin wifi for on synchronisation of the ‘aircraft attached’ e-Cabin and Log book iPads and access to aircraft system data for ‘pilot attached’ EFBs. As Iridium connectivity is added to the system to provide an airborne data path, engineers will meet the aircraft ‘with a part, not a pen’ as they will have a full picture from the eLog before arrival. Saunders adds that the airline now has solid evidence of the benefits of airborne reporting from experience of the e-Log on the A350 fleet, which was e-enabled from birth.
Priority will be given to the long haul fleet, although he notes that some Cathay Dragon destinations in
mainland China have little in the way of technical support so remote connection will allow engineers recovering an aircraft to arrive with the correct parts and equipment.
Fitting the satcom antenna takes three days and breaches the pressure hull, so this work will be mostly planned alongside heavy maintenance visits. These will be carried out by HAECO Xiamen and the HAECO base team in Hong Kong. The simpler work will be done in Hong Kong by HAECO in shorter inputs. The airline has 22 Airbus A350-900s and 26 Airbus A350-1000s on order, with 11 -900s delivered to date. Further in the future, there are 21 Boeing 777-9X on order.
The A350s are fitted with an Airbus e-enabled system that meets the same design goal as Avionica but is not retrofittable. As a general point, Saunders says the newer aircraft such as the A350 and 787 are highly integrated but Cathay’s solution is to install the same software applications to provide data commonality with the rest of the fleet – this includes the Ultramain eTechLog, Arconics AeroDocs, as well as products from Fly Smart, Navtech and Cathay Pacific proprietary software. Another advantage of this installation is that it helps maintain Cross Crew Qualification for pilots and maintainers.
One aspect of airborne connectivity that has to be considered very carefully is the cost of the data itself. The bandwidth for the operational network is still relatively narrow and expensive. The cost savings of using the information can easily be overtaken by the cost of getting the data in the first place.
Saunders says that it is frustrating to identify an opportunity that is not viable for this reason. Newer aircraft types have significant opportunities but the OEMs need to understand the data cost burden to the operator. Large volumes of engine data being downloaded automatically was not a welcome cost burden to Cathay on the introduction of its 747-8 Freighter fleet, he adds. Anthony Rios, Vice President of Sales at Miami-based Avionica, agrees, commenting that typical charges for the ground segment, not normally considered, are even higher.
One way to greatly reduce the cost would be a link from the operational data path to the cheaper data rates of the passenger connectivity system. Saunders accepts that there are security requirements but points out that data security is technically achievable, and it is only a matter of time before the industry addresses the factual issues rather that the anecdotal risk claims. Taking this into context, the level of data encryption requirements to downlink a cabin defect via satcom seem a little onerous when ACARS information providing aircraft position for the world’s fleet remains available to anyone with a downloadable app on a smartphone.
Having the Avionica server on the aircraft has opened up some interesting possibilities. The storage space could be used to hold a master tech log or troubleshoot for cabin problems. The latter is important, he says, and is a big part of the e-enablement programme. If there is a business class seat problem after take off, the cabin crew could take photos, send them to the maintenance control centre and receive advice on a fix, or they could consult the data on the server and perhaps get a video showing the reset procedure viewed on their company-issued personal device. The important point here is that the initial impact to a passenger could be avoided and the activity by the crew captured and downlinked to the next port for rectification on arrival. The reservations system could receive the information in case the seat needs to be blocked for sale on the next flight. Solving the problem in the air and advising that it worked out makes that seat available for sale again. Across the airline’s fleet, this type of process improvement avoids a considerable loss of revenue. This would also apply to aircraft faults if the problem is sent on ahead.
Saunders also suggests that algorithms for various onboard systems could be held in the server with frequent ‘dips’ into the QAR during a flight to see whether they are behaving as they should. This can be used for trending, such as APU fuel burn, or to measure the airflow in the environmental control system to check if filters need to be replaced. He says OEMs tend to have conservative maintenance intervals based on the ‘lowest common denominator’ airline, so more spare filters are held in store than necessary and may be replaced before they really need to be. Regular monitoring could extend the service interval. A more serious example is the case of a potential heavy landing. This requires careful assessment of a number of parameters, including the g-force encountered and aircraft altitude. This data has to be collected and sent to the OEM for analysis while the aircraft is grounded for several hours. Potentially, onboard analysis would provide a quick answer and release the aircraft to service earlier.
Cathay Pacific fleet
Boeing 747-400 3
Boeing 777-200 5
Boeing 777-300 12
Boeing 777-300ER 53
Airbus A330-300 41
Airbus A340-300 4
Airbus A350-900 11
Boeing 747-8F 14
Boeing 747-400ERF 6
Boeing 747-400 BCF* 1
Cathay Dragon fleet
Airbus A320 15
Airbus A321 8
Airbus A330-300 20
Aircraft on order
Airbus A350-900 12
Airbus A350-1000 26
Boeing 777-9X 21
(source: Cathay Pacific) * will not be converted used for trending, such as APU fuel burn, or to measure the airflow in the environmental control system to check if filters need to be replaced. He says OEMs tend to have conservative maintenance intervals based on the ‘lowest common denominator’ airline, so more spare filters are held in store than necessary and may be replaced before they really need to be. Regular monitoring could extend the service interval. A more serious example is the case of a potential heavy landing. This requires careful assessment of a number of parameters, including the g-force encountered and aircraft altitude. This data has to be collected and sent to the OEM for analysis while the aircraft is grounded for several hours. Potentially, onboard analysis would provide a quick answer and release the aircraft to service earlier.
January 17, 2017 | By Courtney E. Howard Chief Editor, Intelligent Aerospace |
MIAMI. Cathay Pacific Airways engineers in Hong Kong sought enabling technologies for the
airline’s second-generation e-enabled system to be deployed across the Cathay Pacific and
Cathay Dragon fleets, including B777, B747, A320, and A330 commercial aircraft. They found
their solution, appointing Avionica in Miami as the integrator and supplier for their e-enabled,
airborne global connectivity program.
Avionica’s e-enablement hardware package provides Cathay Pacific a single, common set of
hardware across Boeing and Airbus fleets. At the same time, Avionica brings expertise in STC
development and installation support for Cathay Pacific’s e-enablement solution, at the
heart of Cathay Pacific’s efficiency enhancing initiatives.
Avionica’s e-Enabled products for Cathay Paciﬁc include aviONS (right) and satLINK MAX. aviONS – an open-platform network supporting airline and third-party software systems – enhances airborne connectivity with global 4G Cellular and WiFi. satLINK MAX is a 4-channel, FANS-1/A and ATC Voice Safety Service approved Iridium SATCOM system.
“Avionica oﬀers Cathay Paciﬁc an integrated airborne hardware solution for e-enablement and full-time global connectivity. As part of the STC integration experience, Avionica’s STC design data package is of among the highest quality that we have seen,” says Rob Saunders, head of engineering business improvement and lean at Cathay Paciﬁc Airways.
This selection marks an important milestone in the development of airline e-enablement as Avionica continues its expansion into Asia’s air transport market with its versatile global voice and data connectivity solutions, oﬃcials say.
Avionica’s solution for Cathay Paciﬁc includes:
satLINK MAX Iridium satellite communications system
aviONS Onboard Network Server
avCM 4G cellular device
avSYNC QAR download
satLINK MAX is a 4-channel, Future Air Navigation System (FANS)-1/A, and air traﬃc control (ATC) Voice Safety Service-approved Iridium satellite communications (SATCOM) system. The multitude of Iridium channels enables Cathay Paciﬁc to maximize e-enabled aircraft connectivity without restricting critical voice and FANS-1/A safety services.
aviONS provides an open-platform network solution supporting airline and third-party e-enablement systems. aviONS enhances airborne connectivity with global 4G cellular and wi-ﬁ connectivity. Cathay Paciﬁc will tap aviONS’ Wi-Fi connectivity for crew wireless applications, including eﬃcient in-ﬂight reporting of cabin discrepancy.
To manage connectivity, Avionica’s avSYNC global data transfer network is available to provide automated data transfer between aircraft and their operation center. As Cathay Paciﬁc’s e-enabled aircraft focus is eﬃciency, avSYNC’s ability to automate data synchronization of onboard applications would become a key component of its strategy.
“We’re excited to have been selected by Cathay Paciﬁc in deploying the e-Enabled aircraft solution across their ﬂeet of aircraft. We welcome Cathay to the family of customers that entrust their hardware, STC integration, and data management to us,” says Avionica Vice President of Sales Anthony Rios. “Cathay is leading the charge in e-enablement. With this selection, Avionica becomes the lead enabler to achieve that.”
Cathay Paciﬁc Airways is a Hong Kong-based airline oﬀering scheduled passenger and cargo services to nearly 200 destinations in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, and Africa, using a ﬂeet of more than 140 wide-body aircraft.
Cathay Dragon is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Paciﬁc, and the airline also has a 60 percent stake in AHK Air Hong Kong Ltd, an all-cargo carrier operating regional express freight services. Cathay Paciﬁc has made substantial investments to develop Hong Kong as one of the world’s leading global transportation hubs. The airline is a founder member of the oneworld global alliance.
Headquartered in Miami for 25 years, Avionica is an aircraft data collection and data transmission manufacturer, designing and producing innovative, safety-qualiﬁed, state-of-the-art solutions that are revolutionizing air transportation.