The Canadian Air Mobility Consortium plans to lay the foundations for drone delivery and passenger/cargo air taxis across the nation.
With partners across government, academia, industry and the investing community, the Canadian Air Mobility Consortium plans to lay the foundations for advanced air mobility across the nation, including drone delivery and passenger/cargo air taxis, with an emphasis on sustainability offered by electric aircraft.
Matching closely with NASA’s roadmap for technological development and deployment, the group is raising $1 million from partners — with a 50-50 match from Canadian federal, provincial and local governments — to conduct an economic analysis, develop operational and scenario applications, and then hold a demonstration event in 2020, though that may slip into 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need an [air mobility system to be] equitable, inclusive, intermodal, accessible, and zero-emissions on the vehicle side, to ensure that we’re progressing forward,” said J.R. Hammond, founder and CEO of Canadian Air Mobility, which is currently funded by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. “What has developed out of these conversations, especially during the COVID crisis, is how we are focusing on building our next resilient transportation system at the core of the rebuilding and recovery phase … [and] how this resilience factor can be a complement to ground infrastructure and ground transportation systems, rather than a competition.”
Just south of Canada, through a program called Agility Prime, the United States Air Force and federal government have decided to throw their support behind the creation of a commercial air taxi industry — both for dual-use military purpose and nationalistic economic goals. Canada’s NRC plans to approach the budding technology in much the same way.
“The goal is to create this world-class hub ecosystem related to UAM that will touch on transport of people, transport of goods, medical capabilities, [and] UAS services,” said Eric Lefebre, business director at the NRC. “We need to provide [small and medium sized enterprises] with an environment to take that low-technology readiness level innovative technology and ensure they move to a higher TRL, to certification and to commercialization … ultimately having business scalability at the end of that.”
Both the United States and Canada are very much in the testing phase when it comes to drone delivery in populated areas and flying beyond the operator’s visual line of site, though that may soon change — in part due to the urgency presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the U.S., CVS and UPS are gearing up to use drones to deliver medical prescriptions direct to 135,000 residents within an elderly community in Florida, sourced from just half a mile away. British Columbia-based InDro Robotics has been conducting similar, longer-range BVLOS tests, mostly in Ottawa.
“We have been flying BVLOS for quite some time. We were fortunate enough to start out early working with first responders,” said Philip Reece, founder of InDro Robotics. “From the very start, Transport Canada were very supportive of the work we were doing. Obviously with it being first response, they have a slightly different need and risk matrix to commercial operations. Some of the first things we started out with way back in 2014 was the ability to deliver a heart defibrillator out into the field or onto a paramedic.”
But with COVID-19 shutting down traditional modes of transportation — and Canada’s geography rendering many populations difficult to access without ferries or airplanes — regulators are eager to ramp up medical drone delivery. Using cellular drones developed in partnership with Nokia, InDro Robotics is working with regulators to bring online a drone-based distribution system in British Columbia, moving supplies and spare parts from a central hospital on Salt Spring Island to medical facilities in nearby island communities no longer serviced by ferry, all in class G airspace.
“A COVID fast-track challenge came to us from Vancouver Island Health. Recognizing the work we’ve done already, they reached out to us to see if we’d be able to service routes and deliver samples, test kits and just-in-time machine parts,” said Reece. “It’s an ideal use case here because it’s short-range, BVLOS — none of those missions are over 12 nautical miles. It’s all going from a hospital, so a controlled environment, to a medical facility, many of which have got a heliport, and we’re transporting light payloads.”
InDro Robotics is working with regulators to fast-track the creation of a just-in-time drone distribution network to respond to urgent medical needs created by the coronavirus. (Philip Reece / InDro Robotics)
InDro modified its existing Nokia drones to lower their weight, increase range and payload capacity and ensure multiple methods of communication. The drones are also equipped with onboard detect-and-avoid capability and ADS-B Out to warn nearby aircraft, though InDro plans to use NOTAMs and a temporary flight restriction if necessary.
“It’s flying over RF, with cellular, and it also has a satellite … divert-to-rally point, or cut motors and fall out of the air,” Reece explained. “But we’re cellular, and we do have range to cover all of those areas.”
Using landing ‘nests’ with cellular connectivity, charging capability and lights for nighttime landings, InDro is working with regulators to begin these medical delivery flights at night and mostly over water or in rural areas.
“This is really the mission that has taken us off our crawl, walk approach and really moved us into a run,” said Reece. “We are working very closely with Transport Canada and Vancouver Health Authority. We’re hoping that COVID will be over before we fly, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
Looking into the future, after the pandemic hopefully recedes and commercial demand for travel bounces back, Vancouver-based helicopter operator HeliJet is keen on bringing electric air taxis into its fleet to develop a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model of transportation across the greater Vancouver region and south down to Seattle, Washington.
“We look at vehicles that are hybrid-electric or otherwise and we see a lot of opportunity,” said Danny Sitnam, CEO of HeliJet, explaining his company’s focus on moving people distances between 100-400 miles. “The vehicle that’s displayed on this slide” — Joby Aviation’s S-4 — “is something that we’re considering, and any other vehicles of this caliber that are demonstrating long-distance capability, reducing our cost per seat mile, and at the same time bringing sustainability to our communities.”
Using new VTOL aircraft including Leonardo’s AW609 civil tiltrotor and eVTOLs, HeliJet plans to expand its service network throughout the Cascadia
Throughout the congested metropolitan areas of Seattle and Vancouver, Sitnam said he sees opportunities to turn 30 to 90-minute drives into 5-15 minute flights.
Sitnam also proposes using eVTOLs to better connect the congested metropolitan areas of Seattle and Vancouver, with opportunities to turn 30 to 90-minute drives into five to fifteen-minute flights. He plans on creating a new company division called Integrated Vertical Mobility to explore these possibilities, working with groups like Nexa Advisors and real estate organizations.
In the near-term, Sitnam is working with health customers to demonstrate new use cases of vertical lift using traditional helicopters. Just this week, working for the B.C. cancer agency, HeliJet began moving extremely time-sensitive radio isotopes from where they are produced in downtown Vancouver to a facility in downtown Victoria.
“Currently, they were moving [radio isotopes] by ground into B.C. ferries, which is a 3-4 hour ferry ride, before it gets to Victoria … by that time, the life expectancy was down to 18 percent of the isotope,” Sitnam said. “Today we moved our first package of isotopes and we were able to deliver them with 46 percent life remaining, so that is going to mean a lot to the patients.”
“When we look at what more we could do, a group like Philip’s team could probably move them from heliport to heliport, eliminating all ground, much more sustainable, and taking it to a place where maybe we could do a delivery in half the time it took the helicopter and the ground system,” Sitnam said, referring to InDro Robotics.
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In a show of force to U.S. industry and investors, the virtual launch of Agility Prime sought to demonstrate the Air Force’s commitment to the commercial success of electric air taxis. (U.S. Air Force)
During the Agility Prime virtual kickoff event, speakers from across NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the military and economic importance of U.S. leadership in the development of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs.
Agility Prime is the Air Force’s effort, along with numerous other federal agencies, to support booming commercial investment into eVTOLs, championed by companies like Uber primarily for use as air taxis in urban settings. The military’s attention to this area of technological development, which has clear military applications, is driven in part by the Pentagon’s self-admitted failure to secure domestic production of small drones — a supply chain defense officials are still fighting to bring back to the U.S.
In a show of force to industry and investors, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, service acquisition chief Dr. Will Roper, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and many others sought to demonstrate the depth of the federal government and military commitment to accelerating and de-risking the development and deployment of eVTOL aircraft, both commercially and by the military.
“We want to be very clear up front that there is a path for the military market to accelerate domestic use,” said Roper. “Typically, when we engage with an industry partner, it’s our money — our funding — that is the primary basis of the relationship. But in the case of eVTOLs, we bring a lot of things that are a broader value proposition to this very exciting, transformative technology.”
With the private sector funding startups like Joby Aviation to the tune of $720 million, the Air Force will instead offer its test ranges, deep bench of engineering talent, safety certification process and even its reputation — Americans trust whatever the service chooses to fly over a stadium — to accelerate the development and certification of eVTOLs in the United States.
Artists sketched the ideas discussed by speakers during the Air Force’s Agility Prime kickoff event. (U.S. Air Force)
“Our value proposition in engaging with [eVTOL] systems is to bring those things — our ranges, our certifications — get these vehicles quickly through a military certification, start purchasing them, start flying them for military missions that will be radically transformed like logistics, base defense, disaster relief,” said Roper. “And every hour we log will build confidence in investors, in companies and in regulators.”
Timed with the Agility Prime virtual kickoff, the Air Force released two new challenge-based contracting opportunities — in addition to one that opened in February — seeking out nontraditional defense companies with commercial prototypes that are already in the air.
The first new challenge area, or AOI, seeks eVTOL aircraft capable of carrying 1-2 people more than 10 miles at a speed of at least 45 mph. At least a few UAM aircraft currently under development in the private sector are relevant to these requirements, including Wisk’s autonomous two-seater, Cora — on track for passenger transport trials in New Zealand — and Opener’s ultralight BlackFly.
The second AOI released this week by Agility Prime targets unmanned cargo eVTOLs with a maximum gross takeoff weight greater than 1,320 pounds and a payload exceeding 500 pounds. Qualifying aircraft must have a range over 200 miles, cruise speed greater than 100 mph, and an endurance over 100 minutes.
To qualify for either AOI — or the opportunity released in February for larger, 3-8 passenger eVTOLs — the aircraft must make its first full-scale flight prior to Dec. 17, 2020.
Futurists at the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office, who evaluate what tomorrow’s warfighters will need, have consistently seen the usefulness of vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, said AFWIC director Brig. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, including in logistics and sustainment.
“We see a lot of use cases that have to do with the transport of small packages [in the field], or small groups of people,” Hinote said.
While helicopters will certainly continue to be used in the U.S. military, the Air Force is looking for “another, more widespread, widely applicable solution,” Hinote said, adding that traditional helicopters are generally loud, expensive to build, and require specialized training to fly.
“We certainly would like a solution at a lower cost point for all the right reasons,” he added.
The appeal of eVTOLs to the Air Force lies in five attributes where the aircraft promise to outshine helicopters: mechanical simplicity, for lower maintenance cost and time; autonomy, for improved safety and demands on personnel; ease of mass production; distributed propulsion, for improved acoustics; and runway independence.
Gen. Maryanne Miller, commander of USAF Air Mobility Command (AMC), said Agility Prime concept vehicles would help AMC provide “distributed logistics” to the warfighter in a more flexible, affordable and scalable way, including aeromedical evacuation and global air mobility support missions through increasingly contested environments.
“Can you imagine what these teams could do with the ability to self-deploy and [that are] no longer relying on the logistics transportation network?” Gen. Miller said. “Can you imagine a host of vehicles that any airman can operate to do airfield assessments, security patrols and surveillance, tactical airborne [command and control] and just so much more?”
Through Agility Prime’s “air race to certification” challenges, the service hopes to transition one or multiple eVTOL aircraft to production through more traditional contracting, aiming to initiate a program of record or make a fielding decision by 2023, according to Natasha Tolentino, Agility Prime program manager.
Some of the example use cases offered by Air Force presenters during the Agility Prime virtual kickoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Despite the example use cases given, however, the Air Force is still determining exactly what it plans to do with these aircraft, once procured.
“I truly believe there is a requirement for this, we just don’t quite know what it is yet,” said Lynda Rutledge, Air Force Air Mobility program executive officer.
The benefit of the Air Force-driven Agility Prime effort will be spread across all services, officials noted. Program officers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air National Guard and Air Force Special Operations Command also participated in the week-long virtual event.
Agility Prime plans to work closely with the FAA to translate commercial certification requirements into military ones and vice versa, said Frank Delsing, flight test lead at Air Force Research Laboratory.
“We actually have in Nebraska … a military certification office (MCO) whose sole responsibility is to give us that kind of transition between FAA and DoD airworthiness,” said Delsing. “So when we go to buy civilian-derivative aircraft and we turn them into military aircraft, that MCO helps us with that transition between an FAA-type certificate and a military type certificate … And that’s one of the other reasons that we are so committed to helping the [vendors] in this industry get to their FAA certification, because that only makes it easier for us in the long run.”
And that assistance may prove critical, as FAA certification officials are increasingly working with eVTOLs — or “advanced air mobility” aircraft, a term NASA and the FAA now use to refer to an umbrella of new propulsion technologies, unmanned aviation and expanded use of low-altitude airspace.
“At the FAA right now, certainly in the certification world, advanced air mobility has become big business,” said Dr. Michael Romanowski, the FAA’s director of policy innovation. “It’s a major driver of what we’re doing right now. I’ll say that we’re currently working with somewhere around 30 unique projects with companies geared towards certifying advanced air mobility vehicles.”
One private company that appreciates the interagency focus is Uber Elevate, the rideshare giant’s ecosystem-approach to bringing urban air mobility to traffic-congested cities worldwide, with vehicle partners including Hyundai Motors, Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, helicopter major Bell, and Toyota-backed Joby Aviation.
“I’ve always felt that government, the Department of Defense, and NASA have a vital role to reduce risk,” said Mark Moore, aviation director of engineering at Uber Elevate. “This is bigger than any one company. This is tens of billions of dollars of investment that is required.”
“If you look across our partners, just to develop one experimental aircraft is $100 million-$150 million. To certify that aircraft is $700 million to $1 billion,” Moore added. “These are really, really high stakes, and for both the Department of Defense and NASA to be helping to reduce risk, and to show the breadth of missions that these things can apply to, is fantastic. It really helps the investment community to understand and to stick with this, even during trying days such as we’re going through right now.”
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Boeing and Embraer have become entangled in a legal battle after Boeing terminated its Master Transaction Agreement (MTA), under which the two companies sought to establish a new level of strategic partnership. Pictured here, is Embraer’s E-190 E2 regional airliner. Photo: Embraer
Brazilian commercial and military aircraft manufacturer Embraer on Monday said it has “commenced arbitration proceedings” following Boeing’s announcement last Saturday that it has terminated an agreement with Embraer to create joint ventures in commercial aviation and a military cargo plane.
After Boeing announced its termination of the Master Transaction Agreement (MTA) due to what it said were unsuccessful negotiations to resolve certain conditions with the deal, Embraer followed on Saturday with its own statement that Boeing was wrong to end its agreement and wanted to avoid paying the company $4.2 billion. The two companies first signed non-binding agreement to form the joint venture nearly two years ago.
“We believe Boeing has engaged in a systematic pattern of delay and repeated violations of the MTA, because of its unwillingness to complete the transaction in light of its own financial condition and 737 MAX and other business and reputational problems,” Embraer said on Saturday. “Embraer believes it is in full compliance with its obligations under the MTA and that it has satisfied all conditions required to be accomplished by April 24, 2020. Embraer will pursue all remedies against Boing for the damages incurred by Embraer as a result of Boeing’s wrongful termination and violation of the MTA.”
In July 2018, Boeing and Embraer said they would create a strategic partnership around the development of commercial aircraft and the C-390 multi-mission medium cargo and transport plane. Under terms of the commercial joint venture, which was formally agreed to in December 2018, Boeing would own an 80 percent stake and would give the U.S. aerospace giant the opportunity to market and sell smaller, regional planes that typically seat fewer than 150 passengers. Boeing’s commercial aircraft aimed at airlines usually carry 150 or more passengers.
For the C-390 joint venture, Boeing had agreed on a 49 percent stake. The two companies have had a joint marketing and support agreement in place since 2012 for the Embraer-developed C-390 and that arrangement remains intact, Boeing said on Saturday.
The C-390 Millennium aircraft joint venture would have expanded global marketing efforts and brought Boeing investments in engineering, research, development and the supply chain.
Last month, Embraer suspended its financial forecast for 2020 amid the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 virus, noting that during the fourth quarter of 2019, the company suffered a net loss of nearly $210 million mostly due to expenses associated with the proposed joint venture with Boeing.
“Boeing has worked diligently over more than two years to finalize its transaction with Embraer,” Marc Allen, president of Boeing’s Embraer Partnership & Group Operations, said in a statement. “Over the past several months, we had productive but ultimately unsuccessful negotiations about unsatisfied MTA conditions. We all aimed to resolve those by the initial termination date, but it didn’t happen. It is deeply disappointing. But we have reached a point where continued negotiation within the framework of the MTA is not going to resolve the outstanding issues.”
The tie-up between Boeing and Embraer was still awaiting approval by the European Commission.
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A display of alternative Lufthansa flight paths to avoid a cyclone and other airline flight paths is shown during an Apr. 23 Avionics International webinar sponsored by Hexagon AB.
While global flight traffic has dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a timeline for the return to last year’s level of 39 million flights is uncertain, airlines looking for illumination on their flight data may find it in the Luciad Portfolio by Sweden’s Hexagon AB.
“There is a wide diversity of data types, formats and structures that need to be brought together to realize a safe flight environment,” Sebastiaan Helsen, regional sales manager for Hexagon’s geospatial division, said in an Apr. 23 Avionics International webinar, How to Exploit Real-Time Big Data to Optimize Aviation Operations: Cruising the Skies with Confidence.
Helsen outlined three use cases for big data: connecting hundreds of data types, analyzing information on the fly for smart decision making, and visualizing 2D and 3D data views in real time. By 2026, aircraft annual data generation will be 98 million terabytes, or roughly 5 to 8 terabytes per flight, he said.
The Luciad Portfolio works to integrate data aircraft speed and fuel consumption, real-time sensor information from radar and other tracking, aeronautical updates on changes in sectors and other factors, weather data, noise and pollution measurements, and flight plans and safety reports.
“Typically, you want to have access to the data as soon as possible for a variety of reasons,” Helsen said. “First of all, you want to make decisions in real time, but also if it takes too long before you can use the data..if you know there’s already new information, but you can’t use it yet because it’s still stuck somewhere in the process, that can be a real headache.”
“To rapidly and accurately exploit big data for aviation operations, there are two things we focus on with the technology in our Luciad Portfolio: to connect directly to data in its native format, especially for domain-specific formats, and the analysis and utilization that is done of the data should be done instantly as well in real time so you can use it and derive information from the data while it’s still relevant,” he said.
The flood of aviation data, the diversity of data sources and formats, and the speed of data transmission can complicate how aircraft effectively use data, but “the Luciad Portfolio was specifically designed to tackle these kinds of issues,” Helsen said.
For example, the portfolio can connect “to virtually any database in more than 200 data formats and real time data feeds,” and “you can easily add data formats” with the portfolio, he said.
A unified data model allows the portfolio to display the data in the same manner before it is given to the analysis or visualization piece of the technology. The portfolio incorporates a number of standards and geospatial formats – such as aeronautical formats such as AIXM, ARINC424, DAFIF and weather formats such as GRIB, NetCDF, and BUFR, and real-time data formats such as the ASTERIX group of Eurocontrol formats that define connections to radar feeds.
That ASTERIX format includes Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data, Helsen said.
Airbus Defence and Space used the Luciad technology in the Collaborative Airspace Provision Service (CAPS) project that combined a wide variety of data to determine optimal flight paths and those that limited contrail formation. In December, 2014, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) named CAPS as the best in class solution in the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) category.
Lufthansa Airlines has also “integrated the Luciad technology in a product called Lido,” Helsen said during the Apr. 23 webinar.
Lido navigation is used as a flight planning tool among the 26 airlines in the Star Alliance, he said, while Lufthansa has said that more than 180 airlines use Lido FMS.
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The development of low-altitude weather services and regulation may be falling behind the progress of drone delivery services and passenger air taxis. (Credit: Don Berchoff)
As the Federal Aviation Administration continues down its “crawl, walk, run” path of incorporating drone delivery, passenger air taxis and other unmanned aircraft applications into the national airspace, development of low-altitude weather services and associated regulation needs to catch up.
Nearly 70 waivers have been granted for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations, according to FAA aviation safety inspector Marilyn Pearson, and none of them have specific weather requirements included as special provisions.
“We have BVLOS operations that may or may not have a visual observer and they have no specific weather requirements,” Pearson said during a webinar hosted by the Vertical Flight Society. “So we don’t know what they’re flying into, and [the operators] probably don’t know what they’re flying into either.”
Under Part 107, which covers most operations of small unmanned aircraft under 55 lbs, the operator must have 3 statute miles of visibility and their drone must maintain vertical and horizontal separation from clouds of 500 and 2,000 feet, respectively.
“We have a critical problem with developing regulations because the 2018 [FAA] Reauthorization Act said that we cannot make current regulations more restrictive, so the current regulations for Part 107 operations — and even the Part 91 or the 135 operations that we see now for unmanned vehicles — don’t have sufficient weather requirements,” Pearson said. “So we’re going to have to determine what a policy might be, or perhaps on a case-by-case basis.”
Even if those regulations were in place, FAA-approved data sources may not currently be able to meet all the needs of low-altitude drone flights. The Aviation Weather Center’s (AWC) Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) tool, for example, is designed to support FAA-regulated manned aircraft flying above 500 feet.
“We know that our products don’t currently meet the needs of the UAS or UAM community, and in order to do this we really have to focus on that information below 500 feet,” said Stephanie Avey, a meteorologist at AWC. “That would include higher resolution winds, additional observation data sets — especially in those dense, urban environments.”
AWC is also working to provide some of the capabilities of its Graphical Forecast for Aviation (GFA), often used by general aviation pilots, for lower altitude missions.
“There’s this idea that we could integrate our HEMS tool into the GFA and make it sort of a seamless product … ‘GFA-Low Altitude’, or GFA-LA,” Avey said. “[GFA-LA] would include things like higher resolution winds below 1,000 feet … a lot more forecast information … like cloud layer information, precipitation and weather forecast from the NWS, we could provide turbulence information and low-level wind shear.”
Based on numerous requests from users, Avey said AWC is focused on improving the interface for its tools. The agency isn’t currently working on mobile or iPad applications, but is improving accessibility from those devices. Asked about API access to weather data, Avey added that AWC is working on “providing the gridded values of the GFA in a netcdf file format for FAA,” eventually to include data for the GFA-LA as well.
“Right now, there’s no standard from the FAA on where these operators should be getting their weather information,” Avey said. “Without that requirement from the FAA, we’re not able to provide that information. Once we have a requirement, this will allow us to bring in more funding. We know that having micro-modeling within urban environments, et cetera, is going to take a lot more computer power that we don’t currently have.”
“The current numerical weather prediction models clearly cannot resolve the scales of the processes that are happening in the urban landscape,” agreed Matthias Steiner, director of aviation applications programs at the National Center for Atmospheric research. “The space and time resolution is too coarse.”
A study conducted by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in 2017, based on surveys and interviews with UAS operators, identified 12 major gaps in current weather decision support, particularly for low-altitude missions.
This slide, presented by FAA aviation safety inspector Marilyn Pearson, acknowledges the shortcomings in weather services for UAS operations identified by the MIT study.
“The lack of observations of ceiling, visibility, and winds near most low altitude UAS operational locations causes the validation of numerical weather forecasts of weather conditions for those locations to be the highest priority,” the authors wrote. “Successful UAS integration is contingent on the ability of future airspace management strategies to remain both feasible and efficient in different weather situations.”
Low-altitude flyers, including helicopters, need higher resolution data than is currently available to avoid flying into isolated patches of fog, for example — but more challenges emerge in complex urban landscapes.
“The weather challenges are all the normal culprits that we are aware of from large and general aviation, but in addition to all of those, the urban landscape creates additional new hazards — significant wind and turbulence around and above the buildings — that you need to be aware of,” said Steiner. “The observing infrastructure is doing a good job to capture things at the larger scale, but it’s inadequate to capture the micro-scale weather that happens, particularly in the urban environment.”
Improvements to the low-altitude weather observation data and urban simulations will be critical to successful drone and air taxi services. Not only are these aircraft lighter and more susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, wind speed and precipitation, but UAM discussions have placed great emphasis on high utilization rates.
“We know that business models for running these operations are going to be so critical to the operators themselves, and they can’t afford to sit on the ground because we think there’s something in the air,” said Don Berchoff, CEO of TruWeather Solutions. “Or they can’t afford to not know how the weather is going to impact them four hours from now because they’ve got to give their client assuredness that they are going to get from downtown Manhattan to JFK with five hours lead time.”
As UAS and UAM operators move from low-scale demonstrations in ideal locations to commercial activity, consistent, precise and resolute weather data and decision tools “are going to be absolutely critical for a well-functioning and non-chaotic airspace,” Berchoff said.
“This is something that is going to become more recognized and more impactful to people’s business model and revenue as they start trying to schedule more flights, jamming more operations into a smaller envelope, not carefully managing each flight for demonstration and avoiding the weather to make it work … the reality is at some point going to hit the industry and what we want to do is get ahead of this problem and to do that we need operators’ support and we need to demonstrate the need for research dollars,” Berchoff added.
Much like the “crawl, walk, run” approach to integrating unmanned traffic, there is broad agreement that solving for the weather challenges associated with low-altitude and urban flight requires a gradual approach, creating “good enough” benchmarks that allow for an initial system to emerge.
“This is not something that’s going to get solved in even 20 years,” said Berchoff. “This is a long-term effort that will probably never be perfect enough in my lifetime, but we have to start somewhere.”
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On this bonus episode, we provide unreleased interviews from our coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’s impact on aviation.
On this bonus episode, we feature some of the unreleased interviews from our recent coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’s impact on various segments of the aviation industry.
Guests and speakers on this episode include the following:
At 1:53, you’ll hear the opening remarks delivered by Bastian and Jacobson during their 2020 first quarter earnings call.
At 16:12, Koe joins the podcast to discuss trends in business aviation intelligence data and flight activity.
At 31:10, McDonald joins the podcast to discuss how the decline in passenger demand and COVID-19 travel restrictions will impact the aerospace industry supply chain.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode as part of this new series? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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Eilson AFB, Alaska received its first two F-35A Lightning IIs on Apr. 21. Photo: United States Air Force.
A new Panoramic Cockpit Display – Electronics Unit (PCD-EU) for the Lockheed Martin F-35 is to feature significantly enhanced processing and memory.
The PCD-EU “is considered a new development effort under the F-35 Technology Refresh 3 (TR3) effort and will provide improved processing capability and video formatting,” Lt. Cmdr. Keith Goodsell, a representative for the F-35 Joint Program Office, wrote in an Apr. 24 email to Avionics International.
“The system is comprised of independently controlled display management computers for each half of the Panoramic Cockpit Display – Display Unit (PCD-DU), allowing for greater situational awareness as well as redundancy for flight critical displays,” he wrote. “The PCD-EU also incorporates both safety and non-safety critical processors, allowing for approximately four times the processing capacity and 32 times increased memory capacity. Finally, the PCD-EU will enable Hardware Open Systems Technology (HOST) to address power distribution, signal traffic dynamics, module diagnostics, signaling protocols and module commonality.”
Last month, San Jose-based Lynx Software Technologies and Tampa-based Core Avionics & Industrial Inc. (CoreAVI) announced that they are providing key technologies for PCD-EU.
In December, Lockheed Martin received over $172 million to acquire long-lead materials, parts components and effort for 28 Lot 15 F-35s, with work expected to be completed by December 2023. The PCD-EU is to be fielded first in that lot. Nearly $82 million was awarded to procure hardware and software elements for the forthcoming Block 4 capability upgrade. The Block 4 upgrades, to take place over this next decade, will include new information technology capabilities, particularly the TR3 package with an updated integrated core processor (ICP) by L3Harris and the PCD-EU. An open-architecture backbone is also expected to be integrated into the F-35 as part of the Block 4 capabilities.
Lockheed Martin awarded Lynx Software Technologies a $14 million subcontract in February last year to provide the “low-level operating system software for the TR3 Integrated Core Processor and PCD,” Goodsell wrote in his email to Avionics. “CoreAVI is a subcontract to L3Harris and provides the temperature-screened graphics processor units and supporting driver software. We do not have cost/award information at this time.”
Last December, Lynx Software Technologies said that the F-35 program office had chosen the company’s LYNX MOSA.ic framework to help upgrade the F-35’s mission system avionics under the F-35 program’s Technology Refresh 3 effort. Will Keegan, the chief technology officer of Lynx Software Technologies, said that the LYNX MOSA.ic framework “lowers the cost, effort and risk of multicore certification compared with traditional SMP RTOS [Symmetric Multi-Processing Real-Time Operating System] approaches.”
L3Harris has been developing the new, F-35 ICP, which, like the PCD-EU, is to go aboard F-35s starting with Lot 15 in 2023. Lockheed Martin built the legacy ICP at a facility in Eagan, Minn. which closed in 2012. Avionics work done there has moved to the company’s Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) division in Owego, N.Y.
The new, L3Harris ICP “is based on advanced open systems architecture and COTS technology, which pave the way for system upgrades to the F-35 well into the future,” Bryant Henson, president of L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems’ mission avionics sector, wrote in a recent email to Avionics. “Much of the F-35’s sensor and ISR capabilities will be made possible by the ICP. The new processor will increase by 25-times the collection of data from the aircraft’s sophisticated sensor suite to identify enemy radar and EW [electronic warfare] emissions that will provide the pilot with 360-degree situational awareness of threats and then prioritize and recommend to the pilot how to counter or negate the threat.”
In February, L3Harris’ plant in Alpharetta, Ga. announced that it had delivered its 1,000th PCD for the F-35 to Lockheed Martin.
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The digital cockpit upgrade for the U.S. Army’s fleet of Blackhawk helicopters recently completed initial operational test and evaluation. Photo: U.S. Army.
Northrop Grumman said Wednesday it has completed initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) for ‘digital cockpit’ upgrades it has provided for the avionics suite on the Army’s UH-60V Black Hawk helicopters.
The successful IOT&E milestone for the avionics upgrade suite sets up the Army for a full-rate production decision in the near future.
“Northrop Grumman’s scalable, fully integrated avionics system will ensure the legacy Black Hawk fleet remains at the forefront of combat capability for decades to come. It is designed with a secure, open architecture that provides greater mission flexibility and a rapid upgrade path,” James Conroy, the company’s vice president for navigation, targeting and survivability, said in a statement.
The Army’s UH-60V digital cockpit looks identical to the -60M configuration, although it does feature significantly advanced avionics, such as new mission computers, including a Flite Pro Gen III Mission Computer.
The UH-60V Black Hawk is a retrofit of its UH-60L’s upgraded with Northrop Grumman’s ‘digital cockpit’ suite to increase pilot awareness and enhance navigational functionality by moving from an analog architecture to a digital infrastructure enabling a pilot-vehicle interface.
Northrop Grumman designed the system with an open architecture approach that allows third-party upgrades without involvement by the original equipment manufacturer. The UH-60V solution is aligned with the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standard, complies with FAA and EASA global air traffic management requirements and is compliant with safety-critical avionics standards.
“Benefits include enhanced pilot situational understanding and mission safety, as well as decreased pilot workload and life cycle cost. Additionally, providing a nearly identical pilot-vehicle interface to the UH-60M enables common training and operational employment,” the company wrote in a statement.
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Although companies that provide aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul are facing a major drop in demand, some are still working and even introducing new products or services, such as the aircraft disinfection service introduced by Lincoln, Nebraska-based Duncan Aviation, one of the largest business jet avionics modifications providers in the United States. Photo: Duncan Aviation
Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) providers are facing the possibility of a steep drop in global demand for MRO services this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic although commercial MROs may face greater declines than MROs that have a higher proportion of business aviation clients.
“Assuming our baseline scenario that anticipates recovery later this summer, the current trajectory for fleet reductions and lower aircraft utilization would reduce global MRO demand in 2020 by over $26 billion, or almost 30 percent,” according to “Impact of COVID-19 on Commercial MRO,” a March 26 study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
“North America and Western Europe would suffer the largest impact,” the forecast said. “Where possible, operators are strategically selecting aircraft to be parked based on their maintenance status and will likely defer non-essential visits like cabin re-configurations and certain component upgrades. Should COVID-19 extend beyond our baseline scenario, suppressing travel further and creating more severe, long-lasting economic consequences, the impact on MRO demand could top $35 billion in 2020, with an additional $15 billion in 2021. Conversely, if our rapid recovery scenario is realized and the number of COVID-19 cases peak earlier than expected, the MRO impact could be as low as $17 billion, or 19 percent.”
Last month, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik reported record earnings for 2019, but Johannes Bussmann, chairman of the company’s executive board, cautioned that “the maintenance industry is already suffering from the decline in air traffic” due to COVID-19.
“The full extent will hit us with a delay, which means a forecast is currently not possible, but first impacts are massive,” he said. “Everything depends on the duration of the crisis and how our customers will recover from it. We have prepared ourselves with a very comprehensive package of measures, also, to be able to deliver at any time. Especially now, our customers need a reliable technical partner.”
In an email to Avionics International, the Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA), whose founder and managing director recently appeared on the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, said that “the uncertainty many airlines are currently facing regarding the duration of the crisis, the length of recovery for travel to return and – depending on the region – about financial support of their governments, leads to the suspension of non-mandatory modifications like cabin upgrades.”
Some business aviation operators are choosing to use the aircraft downtime to perform mandated ADS-B modifications or connectivity upgrades that were already contracted prior to new travel and work-related restrictions being implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Duncan Aviation
“That certainly affects our members directly and leads to re-scheduling resources e.g. to provide special crisis related services within the modification field or to bundle resources for mandatory upgrades like the ADS-B modification. IAMA supports with establishing a virtual think tank to understand and solve the very special challenges of airlines and lessors those days,” IAMA said. “The integration of already approved modifications like ADS-B Out solutions goes on with remote communication between the STC supplier and the MRO – which is a usual process for already certified packages. Cutback might appear for prototype layovers.”
June 7 this year is the deadline for ADS-B installations in Europe.
IAMA members include Lufthansa Technik, Fokker Services, Envoy Aerospace, Eclipse Technics and Etihad Engineering.
“During COVID-19 lock-down testing and installation on aircraft may provide a problem with accessibility e.g. for prototype layovers,” Marco Wagendorf, business development manager at Fokker Services, a Netherlands-based provider of maintenance and modifications for commercial airliners, wrote in an email to Avionics.
Nate Klenke, the modifications sales manager at the Nebraska-based Duncan Aviation, an MRO which focuses on business jets, wrote in an email to Avionics that “the implementation of social separation and shelter in place have had a significant impact on aviation and the amount of work being completed, especially work related to discretionary spending.”
“However, there is still a mindset with several operators to complete upgrades on systems that may become obsolete in the near future or complete those ‘wish list’ items they have been thinking about but couldn’t fit the necessary downtime into their previous flight schedules,” he wrote. “Some operators have chosen to hold off on all discretionary spending regardless of which system is being discussed. The more savvy flight departments aren’t deferring upgrades, they are taking advantage of the low utilization of the aircraft to get ahead of aging systems.”
Duncan Aviation is also seeing revenue from business aviation operators that had not yet installed ADS-B (Out) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deadline of Jan. 1 this year.
“The beginning of 2020 brought to an end to the push to comply with the ADS-B mandate,” Klenke wrote. “However, we are still seeing some aircraft that weren’t compliant able to complete the upgrade. As a company with 39 installation locations across the country, we install a plethora of systems ranging from complete flight deck upgrades to connectivity and cabin management systems. The environment that has been created by the pandemic has caused several to limit discretionary spending which has impacted the volume of opportunities over the past three months. One thing that should be considered when comparing this, though, is that the last three years have all been very busy years as a result of the ADS-B mandate so a decline in volume should have been anticipated even without this additional hurdle.”
MRO business is likely to take a significant hit because of COVID-19, but business aviation MRO, West Star Aviation, said that it continues to see bookings, including for the Gogo AVANCE L5 pictured here.
Marty Rhine, the vice president of sales at Illinois-based West Star Aviation, an MRO that has significant corporate aircraft business, wrote in an email to Avionics that the company “has remained busy and so far we have not had a lack of work. “
“Gogo installations are holding strong,” he wrote. “Some operators are bringing in planes early since they are not currently flying, which also helps if an aircraft needs to be quarantined. We are seeing a good mix of cabin and cockpit updates, but we are cautious because the discretionary work usually slows down first, which is paint, interior, and avionics. However, we remain in good shape. We currently have several [Gogo AVANCE] L5 upgrades scheduled for later in the year. These represent signed projects post COVID-19 and current, plus we are working a few L5 upgrade projects that arrived and once in-house decided to do the upgrade. We are still seeing a decent amount of activity on L5/L3.”
While West Star Aviation has seen some indefinite postponement of operator-ordered work, “there are others that are taking advantage of the time to get their upgrades done now so they are ready when their flight schedule picks up,” Rhine wrote.
“We have had some major projects push out until the COVID-19 issues are calmed down…very large CMS [cabin management systems], along with a few that have cancelled because of the uncertainty of their situations,” he wrote. “We are seeing hesitation from some customers in signing future work because of the uncertainty in this market.”
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Airports and government agencies are still figuring out where responsibilities and authorities lie concerning drone security and mitigation technologies.
Despite keen awareness of the threats posed by drones, U.S. airports and other large facilities are currently reluctant to purchase counter-drone security systems due to a lack of clarity around regulation, responsibility, authority and effectiveness of technologies.
The Federal Aviation Administration is monitoring the security risks posed by drones as their use continues to proliferate, with the agency expecting $9 billion in drone sales by 2024.
“As the FAA has been looking at this, we’ve been trying to not completely eliminate risk; if we were to do that, we would not maximize use of the airspace,” said Leesa Papier, acting director of the agency’s office of national security programs and incident response. She described efforts to mitigate risk that include education deterrence through law enforcement, as well as the agency’s upcoming drone remote identification rule.
But as events like the December 2018 disruption of service at London Gatwick Airport have shown, education and deterrence are not enough — and a single clueless or nefarious drone operator can have an outsized impact.
That incident resulted in a loss of $25-60 million in revenue for airports and airlines, according to Justin Barkowski, vice president for regulatory affairs at the American Association of Airport Executives, and 160,000 people missed flights. Investigators never determined who was responsible for the threat.
Today, there are more than 530 counter-drone systems on the market, according to a count by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, with detection methods including radar, radio frequency (RF), eletro-optical and infrared imaging and acoustics. Interdiction methods are various as well, but there is very little clarity among industry, government agencies and even the military what systems are most effective for various circumstances.
The FAA, along with the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology division, is conducting testing and analysis of commercial counter-UAS solutions to develop industry standards for use by airports and other potential purchasers. Those activities, which Papier did not give a timeline for on the FAA side, have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re really anxious to see how we can support the development of efficient technologies that identify and detect UAS that are disruptive,” Papier said. “But at this point in time — other than the testing that we have moving forward — we really don’t have any way of seeing what that positive or perfect solution is going to be.”
“There is no one size fits all solution,” added Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, underscoring the difficulty involved in standards formation. “Different technologies may be appropriate for different environments.”
Beyond finding the right solutions, there are issues of responsibility and authority that are in the early stages of being solved. FAA controls the airspace, but airports are privately-owned enterprises; whose responsibility is it to purchase and operate counter-UAS systems — and who has the authority to act on an identified threat?
“As airports, we have very limited capability. We don’t have the legal authority to mitigate or take down a drone. That’s limited to four different federal agencies,” Barkowksi said, referring to DHS, DOE, DOJ and DOD, which have been granted by Congress the authority to take mitigative action toward threatening drones.
There has been progress, Barkowski said, driven by “tabletop exercises” conducted by many airports with government participation.
“As a result, in the event that there is a persistent drone threat at an airport, there is a process now in place to elicit and obtain the assistance and support from those agencies to come and deal with the threat,” he said. However, even that condition — a “persistent drone threat” — isn’t clearly defined.
Airports also don’t have access to drone registration information or low-altitude authorizations that have been granted to drone operators in their airspace, Barkowski said, to understand if identified drones are “friend” or “foe.” Neither do local law enforcement authorities, who are often the first responders to reported drone threats and also do not have authority to take action.
“Yes, absolutely, that’s a gap,” Papier said of local law enforcement capabilities. “There’s been a lot of talk about pilot programs enabling local law enforcement to test how this would work. Currently, only those four federal agencies currently have authority to use counter-drone mitigation technology. Under the law, there can be data and information-sharing with state and local law enforcement, but there’s no deputization or ability for them to use that technology themselves.”
“I think that’s something where we’ll see some action,” she added. “It is definitely a big issue that would need a statutory solution.”
Papier agreed that determining responsibility and authorization for airspace protection around airports is a “wicked problem” that will require joint effort by government and industry.
“Airports are not owned by FAA, so airports will have to come up with what they’re willing to accept as well, so it becomes a holistic effort on how we address this growing problem.”
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