5G is to be an important part of urban air mobility, including drone delivery, according to Wind River. Pictured is the first Dutch drone delivery to a ship, the Pioneering Spirit crane ship, on May 22 off the Port of Rotterdam. The Dutch Delta Drone carried a small part – a network switch – to the ship. Photo: Port of Rotterdam Authority.
The deployment of 5G networks to enable rapid, high-bandwidth communications will be important for urban air mobility and defense, according to a new Wind River report, Solving 5G’s Biggest Challenges for Communications Service Providers.
The aerospace and defense (A&D) sector “is largely interested in 5G for its relevance to Urban Air Mobility as well as the potential to maintain global technology leadership and ensure defense communications are optimized and secure,” according to the report. The new Wind River report finds that 5G offers significant promise and challenges for communication services providers.
“The networks must be dense and complex and can potentially impose high operating and maintenance costs on carriers,” the report said. “Many, if not most, applications on 5G will require extremely low or deterministic latency. And of course, security is a factor to contend with as well.”
Capabilities that can overcome the security risks, “given the distributed and sometimes remote nature of 5G far edge nodes,” include Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to secure edge site hardware via cryptographic keys; Quick Assist Technology (QAT) with key protection; secure, Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) boot; and zero touch updates, according to Wind River.
The deployment of 5G will be challenging, as the networks are dense and complex and come with potentially high operations and maintenance costs.
Wind River said that 5G will likely affect the design and architecture of the Radio Access Network (RAN), a collection of edge-located functions that connect a mobile device to the communication service provider’s core network.
To enable the low latency and high network loads of 5G, Wind River is offering a a new, cloud-based Virtual RAN (vRAN) approach under the the Wind River Cloud Platform. For the high density network requirements, Wind River is pursuing a Massive Multiple In Multiple Out (Massive MIMO) approach to wireless networking that maximizes data transfer through simultaneous sending and receiving and allows for the use of multiple antennas in data transmission and greater speed per antenna.
A Wind River survey published in April of 400 top executives in the United States and China found that a significant percentage are ramping up their 5G investments due to the effects of COVID-19. In the United States, 37 percent of industry 5G projects, including those in aerospace, have accelerated because of COVID-19, while, in China, 63 percent of such projects have moved up, the survey said.
5G is likely to be an important future technology for the military, as 5G is to enable high-bandwidth, real-time, densely-connected networks that will be central to leap-ahead defense command, control, and communications.
To that end, the Pentagon’s technology office has partnered with the Air Force Warfare Center to build a mobile 5G cellular network at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that will host software prototype tests starting next January, according to Avionics’ sister publication, Defense Daily.
The network is to feature relocatable cell towers that can be set up and taken down in less than an hour, as officials look to test possibilities for mobile operations centers and using 5G on the move.
The Pentagon fiscal year 2021 budget requested $449 million in research and development for 5G, $249 million more than provided by Congress last year.
On the commercial side, Gogo is developing new antennas and modems designed to enable the world’s first in-flight connectivity 5G air-to-ground (ATG) network by next year. Gogo has said that it is teaming with Cisco, Airspace, and First RF in Gogo’s development of its 5G system and network.
While Gogo furloughed 600 employees this month because of COVID-19’s impact on aviation, the company also said that the lay-offs would not affect the timeline of 5G. In a May 11 earnings call with investors, Barry Rowan, the chief financial officer for Gogo, said that the company is spending about $100 million for 5G development.
“Our spending for this [5G] program peaks at just under $50 million during 2021,” he said. “We could delay our Gogo 5G spending if required to meet our financial objectives. So what is the outcome of these detailed planning exercises? Even under the worst-case scenario, we meet our key financial objectives of maintaining the minimum liquidity we need to run the company and making our interest payments.”
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A thirty minute flight by an all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan, by MagniX and AeroTEC, brings electric aviation one step closer to primetime. Photo: MagniX
Though SpaceX was forced to scrub its historic launch this past Wednesday — the first transport of humans to space from American soil since 2011 — the sky was all-clear for Redmond, Washington-based MagniX’s first flight of the largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.
Working with Seattle-based AeroTEC, the electric motor startup retrofitted a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with its 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system. The “e-Caravan” took off from AeroTEC’s flight test center at Moses Lake and flew for thirty minutes, climbing up to 2,500 feet and performing “flawlessly,” according to Steve Crane, chief test pilot for AeroTEC.
“What everyone is hearing here is the Cessna 182 chase plane,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said during the live-stream. “The Caravan is hardly making any noise; it’s actually pretty amazing.”
The choice of the Caravan was intentional, according to Ganzarski; it’s a widely-used airframe for both passenger and cargo transit that is still in production and has logged more than 20 million flight hours. And the eCaravan’s first flight — which took off on time, landed on time, and retained ten percent more energy capacity than MagniX and AeroTEC expected it would — was intended to demonstrate “how mature [electric propulsion technology] is and how ready for the world it is.”
“For us, this was really about taking something practical, something real … the Cessna Caravan is one of the most widely-used middle-mile aircraft. It’s a phenomenal platform,” Ganzarski said. “The only challenge a lot of operators have with it is the engine up front, which guzzles a lot of gas, creates a lot of emissions, needs a lot of maintenance and costs a lot of money per hour to operate.”
Another close-up of the modified Cessna 208B Caravan. (MagniX)
Ganzarski believes an electric version of the Caravan would reduce operating costs by 40-80 percent per flight hour, significantly changing the routes operators are able to fly with it. The thirty-minute test flight, which would normally consume jet fuel exceeding $300 in cost, used less than six dollars’ worth of electricity, according to Ganzarski.
“Imagine what that does … to the bottom line or profitability of an airline,” Ganzarski said. “Now they can fly from and to airports and on schedules that they couldn’t have imagined before. Now, they don’t have to justify filling 70 percent of their seats flying into a major airport because that’s the only way to make a few percentage points in earnings.”
In addition to lower fuel costs, the use of electric motors is expected to significantly reduce maintenance costs, eliminating the need for extensive engine overhauls every 3-4,000 hours of operation. Not addressed by MagniX and AeroTEC were the costs involved with battery pack degradation and the need to purchase and swap in a new energy storage system, which analysts expect to be a weighty expense for electric aviation.
Of course, the limited energy density of batteries also comes with significant drawbacks in aircraft performance. The e-Caravan — built with “2019 batteries,” according to Ganzarski — could carry four to five passengers a range of just one hundred miles. By the time MagniX receives FAA certification for its electric propulsion system, which the company expects by the end of 2021, he believes the aircraft will be able to carry “a full load” that distance.
“We’re also working with different types of battery and power sources,” Ganzarski said. “We’re working with lithium sulfur technology companies, solid state battery technology and hydrogen fuel cell. From that perspective, the MagniX propulsion systems are, I’ll call them ‘electron-agnostic.’ Whether the power comes from a battery of any type of chemistry, a fuel cell, or in fact a generator that’s fuel-based, we can take those electrons, turn them into torque, and allow the aircraft to be propelled electrically.”
Lee Human, founder and CEO of AeroTEC, which served as aircraft expert and integrator, said the modification resulted in a much simpler aircraft with fewer parts — and MagniX’s propulsion system is “from an architectural standpoint, the most reliable, redundant propulsion system that I’ve ever seen.”
“The battery architecture — you have basically four channels of power, which can handle failures,” Human told reporters after the flight. “When you go through the magnet controller systems, there are two separate channels. There are two controllers, each one has two channels of control. There are two battery management units, and then even the motor itself is a four-channel system; you have two motors, each motor controlled with two different channels of signal.
“That kind of redundancy, reliability, safety is also new, versus the classic motor that has many single points of failure,” he added. “And they do fail, which is why most airplanes have two engines on them. This is completely different. This power propulsion system can tolerate lots of failure and still be completely operational.”
For AeroTEC, which has engineering offices in Seattle and a flight test center at Moses Lake, electric aviation is very much the company’s future.
“Roei and I, when we decided to launch this together … it’s obvious to everyone that electrification is the future. The systems we have today for flight — jet engines and the like — it’s just not sustainable. It’s there because we have no other choice. Well, today we have another choice … [and] we are going all in for electric flight development testing and certification here at Moses Lake,” Human said, adding that his company has other collaborations upcoming with Israeli startup Eviation, developer of the Alice commuter aircraft.
This is the second all-electric aircraft MagniX has retrofitted and flown in the past six months. Last year, the electric motor startup worked with Vancouver, Canada-based seaplane operator Harbour Air to modify a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, which flew in December. The two companies have partnered to electrify Harbour Air’s entire fleet.
MagniX, founded in Queensland, Australia in 2009, has poured “hundreds of millions” into developing electric motors. The company is funded New Zealand-born billionaire Richard Chandler, who is also funding Israeli electric aviation startup Eviation, reported Seattle Times’ Dominic Gates.
Alongside the electric vertical lift revolution, pushing to create aerial VTOL rideshare in urban cities, MagniX is one of many sustainable aviation startups working on retrofitted or from-scratch conventional fixed-wing concepts to reduce emissions, lower operating costs and hopefully enable new aviation markets.
Leaders in this field see room in the future of sustainable aviation for battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell and other solutions for various types of aircraft and missions.
“Energy storage solutions suitable for a given mission profile are dependent on a wide range of factors that go beyond just the mission, but also include customer needs and vehicle scale (e.g. small drone vs long range commercial jet),” Zach Lovering, founder and CEO of electric fixed-wing startup Aera Aircraft, told Avionics. “Currently, small drone and passenger eVTOL applications are dominated by battery storage. Several companies are looking to hydrogen for higher endurance, however there remain many safety and certification hurdles ahead for those systems.
“Fuel cells offer potentially high specific energy, but suffer from poor specific power and efficiency. Given these trades, it’s clear that the right solution will be dependent on the vehicle and its mission,” he added.”
Lovering, who formerly led the development and flight testing of Airbus’ Vahana eVTOL demonstrator, believes electric aircraft can cut operators’ costs by 50-66 percent, with battery replacement costs serving as the largest limiting factor in further cost reductions. With operators forced to compete at lower ticket prices and flight shaming movement gaining steam, Lovering sees significant momentum in the industry to make all-electric flight mainstream.
“In the next 20 years we will see high specific energy battery cells that are currently in the lab move into certified aircraft,” Lovering told Avionics via email. “These cells will allow eVTOLs to have enough range to satisfy local flights in all-weather (IFR) conditions and will enable electric regional IFR flights with fixed wing airplanes. Likewise, I foresee hybrid electric aircraft being able to satisfy long range flights and improve their operational flexibility and economics.”
Early applications of electric aircraft will be heavily constrained by battery density — and face significant supply chain challenges — but MagniX’s Ganzarski says there is a market, though he wouldn’t discuss the company’s order book.
Electric jets are further in the future, with startup Wright Electric, working on 1.5-megaWatt motors to power a 186-seat zero-emission passenger jet, aiming for entry into service in 2030.
But fully-electric retrofits of widely-used airframes like the Caravan may begin to impact aviation within just a few years. And once passengers experience the quiet, emissions-free reality of electric flight, they may begin to demand it.
“If you look at the airline data for last year, five percent of all worldwide airline flights were a hundred miles or less. So the demand is clearly there,” Lovering said. “We’re talking about two million flights or more, depending on if you include cargo and sub-regional … and we start [using electric aircraft] in that range and grow from there.”
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Jean-François Parent is the Head of Engineering and Chief Engineer of the A220 at Airbus Canada Limited Partnership, in Mirabel, Canada. Photo: Airbus
On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we caught up with Jean-François Parent, head of engineering and chief engineer for the Airbus Canada Limited Partnership’s A220 program.
The chief engineer explains how the A220 and all Airbus airliners are designed to prevent air contamination under normal operating conditions. When at cruising altitudes, the cabin air is a mix of fresh air drawn from the outside of the aircraft and passed through High-Efficiency-Particulate Arrestors (HEPA) filters designed to remove particles in the air down to the size of microscopic bacteria and virus clusters.
The air that is supplied to aircraft lavatories and cargo compartment is evacuated overboard, preventing any return of contaminated air in the cabin. The forward and aft cabin air is distributed from the top of the cabin through airflow channels integral to the passenger baggage overhead bins. It is extracted at floor level. There is no flow forward or rearward along the cabin.
As airline passengers begin to slowly get back on aircraft, this discussion can help explain how a modern airplane keeps their cabin air clean and refreshed.
New and innovative technologies featured on the A220 are also discussed in this episode.
Airbus recently opened its first A220 final assembly line at its Mobile Alabama production site, the second assembly site for the A220 in addition to its program headquarters in Mirabel, Canada.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said during a May 28 webcast hosted by the Washington Post that the cabin refresh of the airline’s fleet of A320s, pictured here, is still going to happen, but has been temporarily paused due to COVID-19. Photo: JetBlue
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said the New York-based airline is still on schedule to take delivery of its first Airbus A220 later this year and will continue the ongoing process of refreshing the cabin interiors on its A320 fleet is still happening through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
During a webcast hosted by The Washington Post May 28, Hayes discussed the de-fogging, cleaning and restoring of passenger safety assuredness measures the airline is taking as passengers slowly start getting back on its airplanes. JetBlue will be one of the first airlines to receive an Airbus A220 assembled in the United States, after Airbus officially opened its new production facility in Mobile, Alabama last week.
“December this year sees the first arrival of one of our Airbus A220 airplanes, they’re a modern airplane, very fuel efficient. We’re going to be taking 70 of those over the next few years and those will gradually phase out our E-190s,” Hayes said
The low cost carrier first confirmed an order for 60 total A220-300s in June 2018, which included an agreement with Airbus for options on an additional 60 aircraft and the flexibility to convert some of its orders to the smaller A220-100, which has about 110 to 115 seats compared to the larger variant’s 130 to 140 seats.
The fleet retirement of JetBlue’s Embraer E-190 aircraft was already on schedule to begin this year, with no indication given by Hayes that would slip. One project JetBlue has had to temporarily pause due to COVID-19 is the updating of their A320 cabins. In March 2019, a plan for re-styling their A320 fleet was unveiled to include a new in-flight entertainment system and an new seating and power outlets installed at every seat.
Other improvements coming to the A320s include an upgrade to the Thales AVANT IFE system and ViaSat-2 connectivity.
“All of our A320s, we’re going through a cabin restarting, we’re replacing the interiors, all of those with new seats, new entertainment systems, so when you get in it’s going to look like new. And we were just over halfway through that process when COVID hit and we put that on pause and we’ll pick that up again once demand suggests we need the airplanes. But within a couple years every airplane we have is either going to look new, or be new,” Hayes said.
During JetBlue’s recent third quarter earnings call, the airline reported a 15 percent year over year decline in first quarter 2020 revenue, attributed mostly to a 52 percent decline in revenue in March due to the impact of COVID-19 using lower demand for passenger travel. While the order for new Airbus A220s remains in place, JetBlue has reworked its order book with Airbus that helped lead to a $1.1 billion reduction on aircraft capital expenditures through 2022.
JetBlue started operating its first A321neo, pictured here, in September. It still plans on starting flights to London next year using its first A321LR, though the launch of flights to London are likely to be delayed until later than planned in 2021, according to comments made by Hayes during the May 28 webcast. Photo: JetBlue
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), P.L. 116-136 – which became law on March 27 to provide $25 billion in economic relief for U.S.-based passenger airlines – JetBlue received an allocation of $935.8 million, $250.7 million of which it will start paying back beginning in October, with the remaining provided in direct support. On Thursday, Hayes, whose airline also has lost six employees that died from COVID-19, said that without the relief funds, JetBlue would have had to take much more drastic measure.
“If it wasn’t for the CARES Act I can’t speak for other airlines but I think that from a JetBlue perspective the sensible thing would’ve been just to ground the fleet, furlough the vast majority of our people, all of that money under federal law has to go to directly pay our crew members,” Hayes said.
COVID-19 also will not cancel JetBlue’s plans to start flying from New York to London using the first new generation Airbus A321LR it started operating in September last year. The JetBlue executive expects demand for leisure travel to rebound faster than business travel, and projects demand for flights between the U.S. and Europe to start picking back up toward the second half of 2021.
“As we looked at May we flew about 10 to 15 percent of our normal schedule, in June we’re probably going to flying around 25 percent of our normal schedule, so you’re seeing a small amount of uptick, but we’re assuming it will be an L-shaped recovery we’re planning conservatively for that,” Hayes said. “Before this happened we were flying like 15 flights a day between Boston and Washington, we’re not going to be flying 15 flights a day for a while. But maybe four or five or six, it’s just going to be a much lower volume for business travel for a while.”
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The TECNAM P2010 TDI features a Garmin G1000 NXi glass cockpit Photo: TECNAM
Italian general aviation airplane maker Tecnam on May 27 unveiled the P2010 TDI general aviation aircraft, which features the Garmin G1000 NXi glass cockpit and the GFCTM 700 autopilot.
Tecnam said that it expects type certification for the new version of its four-seat single engine aircraft by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in July followed by Federal Aviation Administration and other national aviation authority certifications thereafter. First deliveries are expected in September.
The aircraft, which featured a development phase kept under wraps by the company, features a Continental CD-170, full FADEC and single-lever controlled, jet/diesel engine.
The engine, the latest in the CD-100 series, has electronic monitoring and redundant safety features and has the highest-horsepower of the CD-100 engines, which number more than 6,000 delivered with more than 7.1 million service flight hours.
Tecnam unveiled its P2010 TDI live on its YouTube channel on May 26, and expects EASA type certification by July. Photo: Tecnam
“This new model will open new opportunities to an entirely new segment of customers ,” said Giovanni Pascale Langer, the managing director of Tecnam. “According to our market analysis, engine development in general aviation has been stagnating for decades. As a consequence, operating costs have been increasing greatly due to the unreasonable fuel consumption and antiquated technology. It is time for a new propulsion concept, diesel technology, which has paved the way for jet fuel as the new standard for general aviation.”
Tecnam said that fuel consumption is low, about 5.2 gallons per hour and that “it is no longer a dream to cover 1,000 nm [nautical miles] with the full tank capacity” of 63 gallons.
The company said that the P2010 TDI will “fill a cap in customer choices,” as potential buyers are able to choose three different fuel capabilities: automotive unleaded on the 180 horsepower version, Avgas on the most powerful 215 horsepower variant, and jet/diesel.
The P2010 TDI’s single Continental CD-170 is a full FADEC, single-lever controlled engine. Photo: Tecnam
The P2010 TDI role is to fill a gap in customer choices, as they can now order the P2010 with three different powerplants, and three different fuel capabilities: automotive unleaded (approved on 180hp version), Avgas on the most powerful 215hp variant and, from now on, Jet/diesel.
Tecnam said that it expects that the majority of the interest in the P2010 TDI will come from flight schools.
Paolo Pascale, the CEO of Tecnam, said that the P2010 TDI with the Continental CD-170 engine “is simply the ‘ideal aircraft,’ combining a modern, sleek ‘green’ design with consistent, robust power.”
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Continued proliferation and advancement of drone technology rapidly outpaces counter-drone systems, which are insufficient to defend against ‘low and slow’ airborne threats.
Successful defense against drone threats in commercial and military environments will require solving numerous challenges, according to experts speaking during a discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council — and there are no clear answers.
Counter-drone systems use a variety of different methodologies to detect nearby aircraft at low altitudes, including radar, radiofrequency (RF) sensors and electro-optical / infrared cameras (EO/IR). All of these systems have glaring weaknesses, explained Dr. Scott Crino, founder and CEO of Red Six Solutions, which has worked with the FAA, TSA and other organizations to red-team defensive systems and provide security advice.
“Nearly all counter-UAS systems are effective to some degree, but they’re effective in the operational environment that it was meant to operate in,” Crino said. “So when selected counter-UAS systems, we have to look at a suite of technologies — not just an RF sensor, not just a radar, but all of them operating and integrated together. But even when being operated that way, the drone still has the upper hand.”
RF-based detection and disruption systems, which rely on scanning sections of the electromagnetic spectrum known to be used by drones for communication with ground controllers, are defeated by frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) technology, which hops transmission frequencies faster than scanners are able to search, explained Crino.
“When an autopilot system is used, it’s what we call ‘RF-dark,’” Crino said. “There is no radio frequency broadcast between the ground controller and the aircraft itself, therefore there is nothing to sense by that RF sensor on the counter-drone system.”
Radars are ineffective at distinguishing between biologics —i.e., birds — and drones, and many radar systems are reliant on line-of-sight plus an object’s movement to consistently track it. Drone threats are often flying low and slow, according to Crino.
“Once a radar or an RF sensor has picked up on an anomaly on the horizon, we use a [EO/IR] camera to slew to where that item was sensed and determine whether it is a UAS or not. When you think of situations where there are multiple aircraft in the air, a camera can only track one at any one time,” Crino said, describing how a bad actor could use a large, easily-tracked aircraft to distract and obscure a smaller, faster-moving threat.
Scott Crino, CEO of Red Six Solutions, demonstrated ways to out-smart commercial counter-UAS systems, such as using the homemade radio frequency spoofer pictured.
Drone detection technologies are a blind spot for the U.S. military in part because ‘low and slow’ trajectories have not historically been of interest to the Pentagon.
“Fast and lethal was the name of the game, but now with the proliferation of drones that are weaponizable, we have to totally reexamine the way that we are securing our facilities, VIPs and other military and critical infrastructure in order to deal with a very small object which sometimes can be much lower and slower than the trajectories we are used to identifying,” said Mary Beth Long, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
Crino sees promise in high-energy laser mitigation systems, such as one recently used aboard the USS Portland to shoot down a drone during a test.
“There’s a lot of promise in high-energy systems, lasers and high-powered microwaves that cook the aircraft almost instantaneously as it approaches,” Crino said. “It’s a little bit of a wider beam, and there is a real hesitancy to use them … we don’t fully understand where the laser stops [and] what the impact could be on a commercial aircraft or even a satellite that’s orbiting the planet.”
Beyond technological challenges, Long cited strategic questions — changes to rules of engagement, or stricter export restrictions to allies based on integration with foreign assets? — as well as authority and airspace regulations concerns currently being grappled with by the FAA and Federal Communications Commission.
In 2018, through the Preventing Emerging Threats Act, Congress provided the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) with the authority to use counter-UAS systems, but policies are still written to protect pilots and aircraft, creating challenges for the integration of counter-drone systems — which are treated as aircraft.
“Right now, all of our policy regulations are on the side of the pilot and not so much on the side of the user of a counter-drone system,” Crino said, listing sections of the U.S. code that guard against destruction of aircraft, unauthorized access of computer systems, interferences with government and satellite communications, and the interception of personal communications — all of which counter-UAS technologies violate as currently written.
From a societal perspective, decisions must be made concerning privacy and security, similar to the use of facial recognition and other technologies, where a thin line exists between monitoring and weaponization.
“The implications and the indirect and direct application of drones to wreak havoc are something that we have not dealt yet as a society and is going to become more difficult to deal with as drones proliferate, particularly in the commercial sector,” Long said. “We have not gotten our heads around this.”
Long ended the presentation with a clear warning, particularly aimed at policymakers in the United States.
“We tend to deal with security issues only after the worst has happened.”
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The Aircraft Electronics Association reported a first quarter drop in avionics sales for the business/general aviation sector. Pictured here is a Bombardier Challenger 650 enlisted by Finnish charter operator, Jetflite, for repatriation of COVID-19 patients. Photo: Jetflite
Avionics sales for business and general aviation aircraft dropped for the first quarter of this year dropped nearly 9 percent compared to last year, the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) said in its latest avionics report released on May 26.
The decrease comes, as the aviation sector continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The avionics for business/general aviation sector saw $660.4 million in sales in the first quarter of 2020 – a nearly $64 million fall from the nearly $724.2 million in sales in the first quarter of last year.
The decrease ends a string of 12 consecutive quarters with a reported increase in year-over-year sales, AEA said. On a bright note, however, AEA said that this year’s first quarter sales were a 3.2 percent increase over first quarter sales in 2018.
The decline in 2020 first quarter sales was sharpest – $42 million, nearly 11 percent – in the retrofit market, while the forward-fit market saw a $21 million, or 6.3 percent, drop. First quarter retrofit sales this year were about $345.7 million, compared to $388.1 million last year, while forward-fit sales were about $314.8 million, compared to $336.1 million last year. In February, AEA’s year-end report showed overall sales of business and general aviation avionics were up 10.2 percent in 2019 compared to 2018.
Avionics companies that report sales data to AEA for their quarterly and annual tracking of sales have continued to operate, release new products and manufacture equipment in support of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic since travel and social distancing restrictions became widespread in early March. North Dakota-based Appareo Systems for example, unveiled a new crash-hardened recoverable data module with auto bus detection for business and general aviation aircraft on Apr. 29, and followed that with a major upgrade to its web-based flight data analysis software on May 18.
Avionics suppliers to the business and general aviation market, such as Universal Avionics, have continued to develop new products while also providing manufacturing support for supplies that can help fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Here, workers at Universal Avionics’ Tuscon, Arizona facility work on masks and shields. Photo: Universal Avionics
On May 18, Garmin’s Autoland system achieved its first aircraft certification on the Piper M600/SLS, after completing a certification flight at Garden City Airport in Kansas on May 5. At the end of March, Honeywell Aerospace added manufacturing capabilities at its Phoenix, Arizona site to produce N95 face masks. A month after achieving European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification on its ClearVision Enhanced Flight Vision System (EFVS) head-wearable display, Universal Avionics started manufacturing medical masks and shields at its Tucson, Arizona facility.
Avionics industry observers had expected some decline in first quarter sales this year because of the passing of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) January 1, 2020 deadline to equip aircraft with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (Out). AEA President Mike Adamson said that the decline in first quarter avionics sales this year “may not come as a surprise” because of the passing of that Jan 1 deadline.
“We also don’t yet know the full extent and global impact of the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic near the end of the first quarter and how it will weigh on the industry and our market figures going forward,” he said in a statement. “The continued operations of business and general aviation could provide a silver lining while commercial aviation remains at a near standstill worldwide.”
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EASA published a “means-of-compliance” document outlining how eVTOL manufacturers can certify electric air taxis for commercial passenger transportation. Photo: Volocopter.
Following the publication of a Special Condition for hybrid-electric and electric VTOL aircraft last year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released some details on how manufacturers can reach compliance in a document that will be open to industry comment until July 24, 2020.
The means-of-compliance (MOC) publication, EASA’s third “building block” in its path to certification and regulation of electric aircraft and urban air mobility operations, includes guidance for manufacturers on how to comply with requirements for “person-carrying small VTOL aircraft with three or more lift/thrust units used to generate powered lift and control,” according to the agency.
That description encompasses just about all distributed electric propulsion designs currently in development, including multirotor, lift-plus-thrust and vectored thrust configurations.
“Now that the industry is moving from prototypes into more mature designs, guidance on how to comply with the certification requirements is needed,” EASA stated in a press release. “The third block published today therefore proposes means of compliance for key certification requirements such as the structural design envelope, flight load conditions, crashworthiness, capability after bird impact, design of fly-by-wire systems, safety assessment process, lightning protection and minimum handling qualities rating.”
EASA’s proposed special condition, as published in July 2019, requires aircraft intended for flight over congested areas or any commercial use to encounter catastrophic failure conditions — defined as preventing continued safe flight and landing of the aircraft — less than once per 10-9 flight hours, the same failure rate required for commercial airliners.
The above chart depicts how EASA will assess potential cascading failures of lift/thrust units in eVTOL aircraft. (EASA)
The MOC document does not include any mention of artificial intelligence or autonomous systems, which EASA appears to be handling separately from the new eVTOL airframes and propulsion systems, with the agency’s roadmap targeting 2025 for its first certification of artificial intelligence-based systems.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently outlined a similar approach to the autonomy systems that feature heavily in planned eVTOL operations, beginning with certification “of the basic vehicles for Part 91 simplified type operations, and as we get that piece done … we’ll develop the capabilities to certify more complex systems … potentially at a later date,” as Peter White, head of the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation, said during a recent Agility Prime webinar.
Overall, however, FAA and EASA are taking opposite approaches to building regulatory regimes for eVTOL aircraft.
“While the FAA plans primarily to use the inherent flexibility of Part 23 Amendment 64, so no new regulations are required, EASA has taken the opposite approach of building a whole new regulatory framework from scratch,” said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society.
More comprehensive information on compliance with EASA regulation will be presented during the 2020 EASA Rotorcraft and VTOL Symposium scheduled for November 10-12, 2020, according to the agency.
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An Airbus A320 operated by Pakistan International Airlines as flight PK8303 crashed just before reaching the runway at Jinnah International Airport, pictured here. Photo: Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority
Accident investigators have recovered the flight data recorder (FDR) from the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303’s Airbus A320 that crashed upon landing on May 22 near Jinnah International Airport.
The airline has confirmed in a press release published to its website May 26 that 97 of the 99 flight crew and passengers onboard died in the crash, with just two of the passengers surviving. What caused the flight to crash is still under investigation, although the airline has provided what little details it knows so far about the fatal accident in statements published to its website and social media channels.
According to PIA, PK8303 was an Airbus A320-214 airliner registered as AP-BLD that was operating a flight from Lahore to Karachi, Pakistan. The aircraft crashed “just before the runway” according to a statement published to PIA’s Facebook page.
“Preliminary reports reveal that it was an uneventful flight up till final approach when the pilot contacted air traffic controller and gave arrival report with everything normal. On short of landing, aircraft reported technical fault and informed that it is proceeding back. Shortly after that, contact was lost and later it was reported crashed,” PIA said in the Facebook statement.
PIA is also stressing that the any speculation or statements about what the technical fault was “can only be termed best as supposition without any factual cause” until investigators have had a chance to recover and analyze some of the critical aircraft parts and systems that may have been involved in or caused the crash to occur.
In their May 26 press release, PIA also stated that a review of the A320’s registration and maintenance records shows that it was “technically sound and all aircraft are checked and cleared by engineering before flight departures.”
“CEO PIA, requested Media not to rely on speculations made by some self-acclaimed aviation experts at this time of grief and sorrow and that inquiry will be held in due course by Independent Investigation Board constituted by the Government of Pakistan to ascertain the cause of the accident,” the airline said.
The Government of Pakistan has tasked its own Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) with investigating the crash as an independent board with completing a preliminary report by September. Experts from the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), Airbus and Safran Engines also joined the investigation on May 26.
BEA provided updates about their support of the investigation via their Twitter account May 26, stating that the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder still has not been recovered. The agency is participating in support of AAIB as an accredited representative of that state of design of the aircraft involved in the accident.
“At this stage, Airbus has no confirmed information concerning the circumstances of the accident. The aircraft, registration number AP-BLD, Manufacturer Serial Number 2274, first entered service in 2004. It has been in operation with Pakistan International Airlines since 2014. The aircraft had logged around 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flight cycles as of today. It was powered by CFM56-5B4/P engines,” Airbus said in a crisis statement about the crash published to its website.
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Dan Dutton, VP R&D for Aerospace & Defense, IFS, explains how a combination of increased remote working, social distancing and regulatory measures could kick-start the use of e-signatures in airline maintenance operations.
The commercial aviation sector has felt the full force of the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines dramatically reducing their operations and some even stopping flying completely. Carriers, manufacturers and maintenance providers alike are having to adapt to meet social distancing measures as they try to continue business operations.
The desire for remote technology to play a greater role in aviation maintenance is something regulatory inspectors have supported for several years. So the news was well received when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced policy at the end of March which will allow video links and other remote technology to help conduct inspections and validate regulatory compliance moving forward.
The policy is in addition to an increasing set of procedural changes that have been implemented to accommodate social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, but the aviation industry will be thinking longer term, hoping that this change of direction is a sign of things to come.
With digital and mobile maintenance very much top of mind for the FAA, inspectors and airlines, the use of the already existing technology of e-signatures is perhaps something that has gone under the radar in recent times. A number of IFS customers have indeed been using the technology in their maintenance operations, but I foresee e-signatures now hold more value than ever given the current circumstances we find ourselves in. Here is why the industry should take full advantage of e-signature capability both during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The Journey to Paperless Operations
The core purpose of e-signature technology is to ultimately eliminate the amount of paper in the maintenance process and help streamline critical processes inside maintenance operations. Organizations can enhance their overall efficiency when paper is removed from the equation and work is managed electronically. Typical uses for electronic documents in maintenance include airworthiness releases, maintenance releases and documents that support getting aircraft ready for release, such as job cards and technical logbooks.
Here, e-signature capability takes away the time-consuming activities associated with paper in terms of data entry, the re-keying of inaccurate information into the Management Information System (MIS), and inefficient search and retrieval.
Paper-free maintenance planning, labor, part and tool scheduling and work assignment mean that if changes occur, there is nothing to print, shuffle or distribute. All stakeholders can immediately see their new assignments as planners push electronic job cards out to a mechanic’s device.
It is this level of functionality that is helping organizations make great strides to achieving paperless maintenance operations in the future—while limiting the social interaction between workers in the short term.
Shed Paper Documents and Reap Financial Benefits of An Ecosystem
Paper in any process is a bottle neck—it is a ‘single user’ medium. Take an aircraft release for instance. The cash and goodwill cost incurred when a plane full of passengers is waiting to leave while a mechanic fills out a paper form, walks it to the cockpit for a captain’s signature and then returns it to maintenance operations can be significant. Now consider an electronic technical logbook as an example of how airlines can minimize aircraft turnaround times by reducing reliance on paper. Pilot to maintenance interaction could be digital, faster and safer—given the current need to adhere to social distancing measures.
An app-based, next generation logbook approach is how some airlines have started to address aircraft turnaround times while reducing paper-based processes. When accessible on a mobile device, this technology eliminates the need for pilots to physically sign-off logbooks and the enhanced data available from this capability means faults raised during an inbound flight can be seen in real-time. A pilot can then consider how a fault might impact flights ahead of time, preventing issues being unaddressed after an aircraft has left for its next destination.
There are similar benefits in terms of shift handover. A standard work order for some operators could be up to 200 pages long. The mechanic must then to go through every page to identify the open tasks and build a separate list for the next shift—this manual process takes time and it is easy to miss key details.
Now let’s add e-signatures. This provides a real opportunity to help operators refine their shift turnover activities, they can save potentially double-digit hours per day and hundreds of thousands of dollars from a labor standpoint.
Singing From the Same Digital Hymn Sheet
An aviation maintenance management software system should have integrated functionality that ties materials, technical records, engineering and maintenance execution together. With e-signatures and the support of an effective aviation maintenance management software system, maintenance tasks can be carried out in one system and designated as requiring digital sign-off. Software ideally will provide alerts to any errors or conflicts in real-time, ensuring all relevant information is available to the signatory before a record is signed.
When a document is electronically signed by a technician, inspector, supervisor or other maintenance personnel, it becomes an electronic record, encrypted and permanently stored in the aviation maintenance management database. These records can then be viewed and verified at any time but cannot be altered. Audit trails become much more efficient and the ability to instantly search for and retrieve a specific set of records to perhaps respond to a regulator’s request is hugely beneficial, potentially saving thousands of hours on a yearly basis.
Non-repudiation on a document and a digital trace means someone cannot deny that they have signed something, while quick searches, reports by date and the level of auditing provided by system automation enables technicians to focus on their core job of maintaining aircraft.
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