SmartSky Moves Closer to Launch of New IFC Network with FCC Certification

July 14th, 2021   •   Comments Off on SmartSky Moves Closer to Launch of New IFC Network with FCC Certification   
SmartSky Moves Closer to Launch of New IFC Network with FCC Certification

SmartSky Networks has received Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval for its next-generation air-to-ground in-flight connectivity network. (SmartSky Networks)

SmartSky Networks has received Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification on the ground-based remote radiohead for its next-generation in-flight connectivity (IFC) air-to-ground network.

FCC certification is the latest milestone achieved for SmartSky on its journey to the commercial launch of its IFC network later this year. SmartSky’s network, which the company first started rolling out in 2015, features spectrum reuse, advanced beamforming, and 60 MHz of spectrum to enable in-flight internet.

“SmartSky received its first FCC certification for the remote radiohead in 2016.  Subsequent development of our network’s terrestrial and airborne hardware and software components to optimally deploy SmartSky’s network required an update to the remote radiohead software and FCC certification of the radiohead with the updated software prior to commercial operation of the network,” SmartSky David Helfgott told Avionics International.  “Additionally, the FCC certification permits us to update the existing terrestrial infrastructure and deploy new infrastructure to increase coverage without risk of certification delays.”

The FCC certification comes following the opening of the southeastern portion of the network in June that covers a large contiguous portion of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Helfgott said this is one of several geographic regions that will become operational this year, although operators have not yet started using the operational portion in the southeastern region yet.

According to Helfgott, the fully operational network—which will provide IFC coverage throughout U.S. airspace—is on track to become available next year.

“With existing tower and terrestrial network infrastructure already in place, we expect to have coverage for 80-90 percent of flight hours by the end of 2021 and full CONUS coverage in 2022. Completion of the network does require the installation of equipment at new towers; outside the just announced southeast coverage zone, all existing towers are largely complete,” Helfgott said.

There are a total of 250 IFC cellular towers enabling the entire SmartSky IFC network throughout the U.S. One way the company says its network is unique when compared to others is through the use of virtualized evolved packet cores across all 250 towers. As opposed to the traditional physical node-based packet cores used in most networks, by going virtual, SmartSky has more flexibility related to the way voice and data services traffic can be managed across its network.

SmartSky has also continued to establish new industry partnerships in preparation for the launch of the network later this year. In June, Avionica formed a new partnership with SmartSky to enable the concurrent transfer of critical operational telematic data for aircraft by pairing their onboard data collection systems with Skytelligence, a web-based platform that aviation companies can use to develop their smartphone and tablet-based applications and share flight, weather, and operations data. That same month, Honeywell Aerospace was confirmed as a new value-added reseller of SmartSky’s IFC service to U.S.-based business aviation operators.

“Deployment of the FCC-certified tower radios for our network, coupled with the availability of our shipset products (high-performance antennas, aircraft radios) gives our service-partners and dealers great confidence to begin accepting orders,” Helfgott said. “We are already seeing increased interest and demand with the business aviation markets rebounding ahead of schedule in 2021. The timing is great as we plan for our commercial launch, and to be the leading catalyst for the advent of the connected aircraft market.”

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Boeing Lowers 787 Production Rate to Address New Manufacturing Flaw

July 14th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Boeing Lowers 787 Production Rate to Address New Manufacturing Flaw   
Boeing Lowers 787 Production Rate to Address New Manufacturing Flaw

Boeing is temporarily halting deliveries of its 787 Dreamliners, pictured here is the first Singapore Airlines 787-10. (Boeing)

Boeing is temporarily lowering the production rate for its 787 Dreamliner and halting deliveries of its flagship wide-body jet to address a newly discovered manufacturing issue.

The new issues involve small gaps identified in the forward pressure bulkhead, a representative for Boeing told Avionics International. This will be the second delivery stoppage of the twin-aisle airliner in less than a year, after Boeing stopped delivering the 787 between November 2020 and late March to address previously discovered issues with composite skin flatness and small gaps discovered between sections of the fuselage.

Boeing temporarily paused deliveries of the 787 again in May after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sought more information and data about its verification process for the aircraft’s fuselage. Since then, Boeing delivered one 787—that had been cleared for delivery several months before the FAA’s inquiry— to Turkish Airlines.

“As Boeing has previously shared, the company has been engaged in detailed discussions with the FAA on verification methodology for 787 fuselages, and conducting associated inspections and rework,” Boeing said in a July 13 press release. “In connection with these efforts, the company has identified additional rework that will be required on undelivered 787s. Based on our assessment of the time required to complete this work, Boeing is reprioritizing production resources for a few weeks to support the inspection and rework.”

The airframe manufacturer is also temporarily reducing the production rate for the 787 to less than five per month while the inspection and rework process is completed for the undelivered aircraft. Boeing also now expects to deliver less than half of the 787s currently in its inventory this year.

In an emailed statement, a representative for the FAA told Avionics that the 787s will be fixed before deliveries resume.

“The FAA is aware of a manufacturing quality issue near the nose on certain 787 Dreamliners in the company’s inventory of undelivered airplanes. This issue was discovered as part of the ongoing system-wide inspection of Boeing’s 787 shimming processes required by the FAA,” the representative said. “Although the issue poses no immediate threat to flight safety, Boeing has committed to fix these airplanes before resuming deliveries. Based on data, the FAA will determine whether similar modifications should be made on 787s already in commercial service.”

Boeing also reported its second-quarter delivery numbers on Tuesday, completing a total of 79 commercial aircraft deliveries between April and May, 50 of which were 737 MAX jets. The company has delivered 14 total 787 Dreamliners this year.

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New Partnership Between Joby, JetBlue and Signature Aims to Create Credits for Clean Flight Technology

July 14th, 2021   •   Comments Off on New Partnership Between Joby, JetBlue and Signature Aims to Create Credits for Clean Flight Technology   
New Partnership Between Joby, JetBlue and Signature Aims to Create Credits for Clean Flight Technology

Joby Aviation, JetBlue Airways, and Signature Flight Support are teaming up to create a new pathway to clean aviation by developing a system of aviation credits for using electric and hydrogen propulsion technologies, the companies announced in a July 13 press release.

The partnership is aiming to aid in the commercialization of electric and hydrogen technologies, according to the release. It will also connect airlines and operators in the development of sustainable solutions.

“This partnership allows JetBlue to not only continue to fulfill our domestic carbon neutrality commitment, but also evolve the type of offsets we purchase and help support the development of electric and hydrogen aviation — critical levers for meeting the U.S. aviation industry’s net-zero goals,” Sara Bogdan, head of sustainability and environmental social governance at JetBlue, said in a statement.

Airlines could gain these credits by reducing emissions using electric or hydrogen-powered commercial flights that use an energy equivalent to conventional jet fuel, according to the release. The partnership will work on the creation, validation, and use of these credits. Joby is working on an analysis of its new air taxi’s energy consumption to support this effort.

“With JetBlue and Signature, we’re opening up an entirely new path for the aviation industry to more quickly move to sustainable energy sources,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby Aviation, said in a statement. “We invite additional partners to join us and hope these agreements will be the first of many that link today’s air travel to the clean future of flight.”

Joby is developing an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for this sector which it plans to launch in 2024. The company has received G1 certification requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration and could meet those requirements as soon as 2023.

According to the release, this credit is meant to be a supplement to other emissions-reducing solutions like sustainable aviation fuels.

“Signature has long been the leader in moving the business aviation community towards a sustainable future,” Tony Lefebvre, CEO at Signature Flight Support, said in a statement. “Today, we offer our customers the option to offset emissions at airports where SAF isn’t readily available with a book-and-claim model. We’re excited to expand that model through this partnership to include the purchase of electric aviation credits from clean operators like Joby — all while supporting the innovative spirit that brings us closer every day to making flight sustainable for everyone.”

The companies plan to release more information on the partnership later in the year, according to the release.

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New Eurocontrol Data Shows Airlines Increasingly Becoming Targets for Cyber Attacks

July 13th, 2021   •   Comments Off on New Eurocontrol Data Shows Airlines Increasingly Becoming Targets for Cyber Attacks   
New Eurocontrol Data Shows Airlines Increasingly Becoming Targets for Cyber Attacks

A new report published by Eurocontrol documents a significant increase in cyber attacks against various segments of the aviation industry over the last year.

Commercial airlines accounted for 61 percent of all detected aviation-related cyber-attacks in 2020, according to new data collected by Eurocontrol analyzing rising levels of risk for the industry from criminals, hackers and state-sponsored cyber-attackers.

The latest in a series of Think Papers, Eurocontrol used data collected from its European Air Traffic Management Computer Emergency Response Team (EATM-CERT), which reported a 530 percent increase in the number of cyber-attacks that were reported to or identified by the team between 2019 and 2020. None of the cyber attack methods or attempts reported by EATM-CERT were directly against safety-critical aircraft systems or passenger mobile devices connected to in-flight internet.

EATM-CERT’s report notes its system identified or received reports on a total of 775 cyber-attacks on airlines over the course of 2020, a significantly higher number than the next two aviation sectors combined, just over 200 for aviation OEMs and 150 for airports.

“The vast majority of these attacks – 95 percent – were financially motivated: 739 out of 775 incidents. This led to financial loss in 55 percent of cases, and the leaking or theft of personal data in an additional 34 percent of cases,” EATM-CERT notes in the report.

Eurocontrol also categorized the type of attacks against airlines and others and found that based on the 2020 data, attackers overwhelmingly targeted airlines with fraudulent websites and data theft. Researchers attributed the fraudulent website trend to the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic related to airline ticket changes and refunds.

Aviation manufacturers are highlighted in the report as being the most targeted for data theft, with 122 of the 206 total reported cyber-attacks against them coming in the form of cybercriminals seeking to monetize their intellectual property. The shift of many OEMs to cloud-based infrastructure to store and access their data is also problematic, according to EATM-CERT, because it widens the threat surface giving attackers multiple devices connected to the same cloud to go after.

The new report also highlights some of the attacks that were successful against high-profile companies, including a successful one against EasyJet that the U.K.-based low-cost carrier reported in May 2020. That attack led to 9 million EasyJet passengers having their personal information, email addresses and travel details exposed.

A chart featured in the new Eurocontrol report shows how the number of cyber attacks reported to or identified by EATM-CERT. (Eurocontrol)

More recently, in March, well-known aviation IT supplier SITA reported that it was the victim of a cyber-attack leading involving certain passenger data that was stored on SITA’s airline passenger service system servers. SITA’s IT systems manage around 90 percent of passenger bookings for airlines, and although the breach has not yet been quantified, EATM-CERT’s report notes that it could “dwarf the Cathay Pacific incident in terms of millions of exposed records,” referring to a 2018 attack on Cathay Pacific where 9.4 million passenger records were stolen.

An increase in the number of ransomware attacks—the use of malware to infect a computer or IT system and restrict user access until a ransom is paid—is also highlighted in the report. Examples include a June 2020 ransomware attack on VT San Antonio Aerospace, resulting in 1.5 terabytes of sensitive data stolen. A March 2021 ransomware attack against Spirit Airlines that the U.S.-based carrier still has not acknowledged is also highlighted by EATM-CERT.

“Every week, an aviation actor suffers a ransomware attack somewhere in the world, with big impacts on productivity and business continuity, let alone data loss and/or costly extortion demands paid in order to restart operations,” the EATM-CERT team writes in the report. “To be better prepared to manage a ransomware attack, EATM-CERT has teamed up with A-ISAC, the Aviation Information Sharing and Analysis Centre, on a joint awareness campaign about ransomware to help aviation stakeholders better understand the threat, and recommend best practices to reduce risks.”

EATM-CERT researchers are also recommending the development of a new European Aviation Common Public Key Infrastructure designed to use digital identification and provide a new secure medium for electronic communications and transactions between European aviation actors.

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What’s Trending in Aerospace – July 11, 2021

July 12th, 2021   •   Comments Off on What’s Trending in Aerospace – July 11, 2021   
What’s Trending in Aerospace – July 11, 2021

Check out the July 11 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the latest headlines and updates happening across the global aerospace industry.

 

 

Commercial 

 

Proposed Rule Would Require US Airlines to Refund Fees When Wi-Fi Does Not Work

A newly proposed rule would require U.S. airlines to issue refunds for fees charged on ancillary services such as in-flight internet or baggage delivery. (American Airlines)

A new rule being proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation would require airlines to refund fees charged for “checked bags that are significantly delayed and for ancillary services, such as advance seat selection and wi-fi, when consumers pay for them but they are not provided,” according to a July 9 press release.

“The Department is acting on President Biden’s Executive Order Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” the agency said in the release.

The new rule will expand on an existing DOT rule that entitles passengers to a fee refund if their checked bags are lost. Under the proposed rule, airlines would also be required to refund checked baggage fees when the baggage is delayed beyond 12 hours for domestic flights and beyond 25 hours for international flights.

Check out the full notice of proposed rule making published by DOT here.

 

 

Airbus Starts Assembly of its First A321XLR Front Fuselage

Airbus has begun assembly of the front fuselage on its first A321XLR aircraft. (Airbus)

Airbus has started assembling the nose and front fuselage for its first A321XLR in France, according to a July 9 press release.

The latest milestone in the A321XLR program comes less than two months after the start of structural assembly of the rear and centre fuselages in Germany. Now, Airbus teams are taking another significant production step with the structural assembly and system equipment of the nose and front fuselages at its Saint-Nazaire facility.

“This is a key milestone for the A321XLR. We are on track to support the aircraft’s entry into service by 2023,” Martin Schnoor, head of the A321XLR at Airbus said in a statement.

 

 

H2FLY and Deutsche Aircraft Partner to Research Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The companies plan to convert a Dornier 328 aircraft for a hydrogen power system with the goal of flying the aircraft in 2025.

The German aircraft manufacturer, Deutsche Aircraft, and hydrogen fuel cell system company, H2FLY, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a research and development program centered on hydrogen fuel cell technology for commercial regional aircraft, according to a July 6 press release.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology provides an opportunity for us to completely eliminate carbon and NOx emissions from regional flights and the technology to make that happen is closer than most people think, Prof. Dr. Josef Kallo, co-founder and CEO of H2FLY, said in a statement. “Over the last 16 years we have worked hard to demonstrate our technology on smaller aircraft, completing record breaking flights based six powertrain generations. Today we’re pleased to be taking that to the next level with Deutsche Aircraft as we scale our efforts up to regional aircraft.”

The companies plan to convert a Dornier 328 aircraft for a hydrogen power system with the goal of flying the aircraft in 2025, according to the release. The program is focusing on aircraft with up to 40 seats.

“Deutsche Aircraft is convinced that the higher propulsive efficiency of propeller powered aircraft will drive the change in propulsion technology and will result in reducing fuel consumption and emissions even further in the future,” Martin Nüßeler, CTO at Deutsche Aircraft, said in a statement. “Combining modern propeller aircraft design with zero carbon energy sources is central to achieving climate-neutral air transportation.”

 

 

Qatar Airways Joins IATA’s Turbulence Aware Platform

Qatar Airways and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that Qatar Airways will become the first airline in the Middle East to join the IATA Turbulence Aware platform, according to a July 8 press release.

IATA describes Turbulence Aware as a platform that helps airlines “mitigate the impact of turbulence, by pooling and sharing anonymized turbulence data from multiple participating airlines and thousands of daily flights.”

Qatar Airways was the first Middle Eastern carrier to participate in the Turbulence Aware initiative when it was launched as a pilot project in December 2018. The airline has equipped 120 aircraft with the Turbulence Aware platform, with plans to expand it to the rest of its fleet.

 

 

Safran Tests SAF on Helicopter Engine

Safran Helicopter Engines completed the first step of its strategy to deploy sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in engine test cells at its helicopter engine plants with a test on its Arrano engine during which it ran on 38 percent SAF, according to a July 5 press release.

The test was completed at its Bordes plant in France and the SAF was produced from used cooking oils, according to the release.

“Reducing CO2 emissions is a collective responsibility that has been embraced by the women and men of Safran,” Franck Saudo, Safran Helicopter Engines CEO, said in a statement. “By introducing SAF, and specifically biofuel, to helicopter operators and at our plants, we are reducing CO2 emissions at both. I am proud that once again, Safran has taken the lead in aviation decarbonization.”

 

 

Air Taxi

CAE and Volocopter Form Partnership for Pilot Training

Experts in the industry are warning that air taxi manufacturers need to start creating pilot training programs now in order to meet planned commercial launches in the next three or four years. (CAE)

Volocopter and CAE announced a new partnership to develop a training program for Volocopter’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) pilots, according to a July 8 press release.

The partnership will include a $40 million investment from CAE to meet Volocopter’s global pilot demands, according to the release.

“As we scale our UAM services in cities around the world, specific pilot training and qualification for our Volocopters will be an important element. We are proud to be partnering with CAE, who have a track record in developing best-in-class, innovative pilot training solutions for new aircraft programs. It will greatly benefit Volocopter’s entry-into-service timeline and scale,” Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter, said in a statement. “We are excited about CAE’s endorsement and look forward to collaborate as partners focused on combining future-oriented technologies to ensure aviation safety.”

CAE says that air taxi companies need to start developing pilot training programs now to meet 2024 launch date timelines, representatives for the company said during a July 7 call with reporters.

“As a high-technology company and the industry leader in pilot training, we continuously look at providing solutions that make the world a safer place,” Nick Leontidis, CAE group president of civil aviation training solutions, said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting Volocopter’s inspiring vision and we look forward to leading in the design of UAM pilot training that prioritizes safety of operations through our data-driven solutions, world-class pilot training experience, and longstanding relationships with civil aviation authorities across the globe.”

 

Volocopter Receives Prerequisite Approval from EASA to Begin eVTOL Aircraft Production

Volocopter, the German air taxi and drone manufacturer, received a Production Organization Approval (POA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the prerequisite to beginning production of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, the company announced in a July 6 press release. Volocopter will also be acquiring longtime partner, DG Flugzeugbau, a composite aircraft producer.

“Our ten-year partnership with DG Flugzeugbau has been an extraordinary learning experience,” Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter, said in a statement. “Having this legendary industry leader on our side to kick-start scalable and affordable UAM for people and cargo has been a game changer. Today marks an exciting milestone as we unify DG Flugzeugbau’s leadership in aviation production with Volocopter’s pioneering UAM goals to establish yet another crucial stepping-stone for our collective global endeavors.”

 

 

 

Unmanned

Volansi Names Roper CEO

Volansi’s VOLY C10 UAV. (Volansi)

Volansi, a cargo drone delivery company, has named Dr. Will Roper, former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, as its new CEO, according to a July 8 press release.

Roper was previously named to Volansi’s board of directors in March 21. During his time working with the Air Force, Roper spearheaded multiple efforts to advance innovation including initiatives like AFWERX and small business innovative research (SBIR) reform. He was also a strong advocate for Agility Prime, which is advancing commercial air taxi companies.

“As a Volansi board member, I’ve been impressed by the company’s capacity for innovation,” Roper said in a statement. “The company’s VTOL designs are well-suited for a range of commercial and military applications. It felt like a natural fit for me to bring my industry knowledge as well as operations and logistics experience to help create disruptive solutions for the transportation of medium to heavy weight payloads. It’s an exciting opportunity.”

 

 

 

 

 

Military 

Netherlands Gets First MQ-9A Block 5

This is the first of four aircraft and ground stations the RNLAF will receive, according to the release. The MQ-9A will be delivered to the Netherlands by the end of 2021.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has completed the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF) first MQ-9A Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) and ground control station (GCS), according to a July 8 press release.

“We are proud to begin this new relationship with the Royal Netherlands Air Force,” Linden Blue, GA-ASI CEO, said in a statement. “With millions of hours of proven performance under its wings, the MQ-9 is ideally suited to support their nation’s ISR needs. The Netherlands now joins the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain as NATO countries operating our advanced RPAs, with Belgium coming online in the next few years.”

This is the first of four aircraft and ground stations the RNLAF will receive, according to the release. The MQ-9A will be delivered to the Netherlands by the end of 2021.

Testing for the aircraft will begin later this year at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in California, according to the release.

 

 

Boeing Rolls Out Norway’s First P-8A Poseidon 

The first Norwegian P8A Poseidon rolled out of the paint shop in Renton. (Boeing)

The first P-8A Poseidon aircraft for Norway rolled out of the paint shop in Renton, in Royal Norwegian Air Force livery, according to a July 9 press release. Norway is one of eight nations to have acquired the P-8A as their new multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft.

Norway’s first P-8A aircraft – Vingtor – will now return to the factory floor to be prepared for flight testing. First flight is scheduled for later this month, and mission systems will be installed on the aircraft after that.

 

 

More Than 80 Companies Competing in U.S. Air Force JADC2 Effort

The U.S. Air Force has instituted a broad competition on maturing Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), as the service has brought in 81 companies to compete for JADC2 contracts since May last year.

On July 8, the Air Force announced its third JADC2 tranche of 29 companies competing for up to $950 million in indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts for JADC2, an effort to use artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computing to build a cross-service digital architecture for multi-domain operations that are to rely on the fast provision of information from sensors to shooters.

The companies announced July 8 are Black Sage Technologies Inc., Clarity Innovations LLC, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Frontier Technology Inc., Global Infotek Inc., Greystones Consulting Group LLC, Government Research Specialists, Hughes Network Systems LLC, Hypergiant Galactic Systems Inc., Kymeta Corp., Mission Solutions LLC, Net Vision Consultants Inc., NXM Labs Inc., Oracle America, Inc. [ORCL], PARASANTI Inc., PLEXSYS Interface Products Inc., Polysentry Inc., Rackner Inc., Research Innovations Inc., Rolls-Royce North American Technologies Inc., SAAB Sensis Corp.; Scientific Systems Co. Inc., SLICEUP Inc., Software AG Government Solutions Inc., Spectral Sensor Solutions LLC, Systems & Technology Research LLC, UMBRA LAB Inc., XL Scientific LLC, and Yakabod Federal Solutions Inc.

 

 

Space 

Virgin Galactic Completes First Fully-Crewed Spaceflight

This image of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was posted to his Twitter account as Virgin Galactic completed its first fully-crewed spaceflight on Sunday. (Virgin Galactic)

On Sunday July 11, Virgin Galactic completed their first fully-crewed spaceflight, with Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, onboard.

According to a message posted to Twitter by Virgin Galactic following the flight, their spacecraft, the VSS Unity, reached top speed of Mach 3 and a “space altitude of 53.5 miles.”

Check out the full replay of the flight here.

 

 

 

FAA Can Now Track Space Launch and Reentry in ATC System Command Center

SpaceX completed a successful takeoff and landing of its Starship Rocket on May 5. (SpaceX)

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) National Airspace System has a new capability, the Space Data Integrator (SDI), allowing it to track space launch and reentry vehicles in near real time, according to a July 8 press release from the agency.

The SDI will allow the FAA to track space launches and reentries by automatically sending data to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, according to the release.

“This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “With this capability, we will be able to safely reopen the airspace more quickly and reduce the number of aircraft and other airspace users affected by a launch or reentry.”

The data provided from SDI includes vehicle position, altitude, speed, and deviations from its expected flight path, according to the release.

 

 

NASA Finalizes Contract with Northrop Grumman for Moon Outpost Living Quarters 

A rendering of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), one of the elements of Gateway. (NASA)

NASA has finalized its contract with Northrop Grumman to develop the living quarters for astronauts working on the Gateway, the planned in-orbit moon outpost. NASA announced July 9 the firm, fixed-price contract is valued at $935 million.

This is a step forward for NASA’s Artemis program, which is developing the Gateway to support science investigations and surface landings at the moon. Northrop Grumman will develop what is called HALO — the Habitation and Logistics Outpost. The combined spacecraft is targeted for launch in November 2024 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

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14 New Partners Added to NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Project

July 10th, 2021   •   Comments Off on 14 New Partners Added to NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Project   
14 New Partners Added to NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Project

NASA’s AAM NC project is a collaboration between the agency, industry, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is funded through 2030 and every two years the campaign gets more complex in operations. (NASA)

NASA has added 13 new companies and one university as partners on its Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) project that is researching the integration of air taxis and drones into the national airspace, according to a July 8 release from the agency.

These companies will participate in NASA’s National Campaign (NC-1) in 2022 which will include flight demonstrations and simulations around the country over a period of several months.

“The National Campaign team is excited to conduct operational flight demonstrations with the first Advanced Air Mobility integrated experimental ecosystem for the urban environment that connects airspace providers, infrastructure services, and a UAM vehicle in real-time,” Starr Ginn, AAM National Campaign lead, said in a statement.

NASA has added a flight partner, Reliable Robotics Corporation who is working on creating autonomous Part 23 cargo and Part 25 passenger aircraft, recently forming a partnership with Daedalean toward those efforts.

Two previous flight demonstrations partners, Wisk Aero and Joby Aviation, will also continue work with the agency, according to the release. Wisk, an electric air taxi company, has been working with NASA since November on solutions for integrating autonomous aircraft into the national airspace. Joby is set to begin flight testing with NASA later this year.

NASA will have five infrastructure partners during these demonstrations including AURA Network Systems, Raytheon Company, Robust Analytics Inc., SkyGrid, and the University of North Texas, according to the release. AURA Network Systems, which is creating a drone communications system on an aviation-approved spectrum, will also be performing communications, navigation, and surveillance activities during the demonstrations.

SkyGrid, who is creating a next-generation airspace management system for drones, will also be an airspace partner for simulations during NC-1, according to the release. NASA has also partnered with ANRA Technologies Inc., ARINC Incorporated, Avision Inc., Metron Aviation Inc., OneSky Systems Inc., and Unmanned Experts Inc for simulations.

In preparation for flight tests with Joby this year and NC-1 in 2022, NASA completed test flights with a Bell OH-58C Kiowa helicopter to simulate the hurdles AAM vehicles will face.

“We need a vehicle that has a vertical lift capability to test our flight test plan and that flight test plan is basically the blueprint of moving forward with our vehicle partners,” Ginn told Avionics International in March. “It’s to tease out what are going to be even some certification hurdles for the vehicles because the whole airspace architecture and infrastructure is built around the performance of the vehicle and so you got to come up with some minimum safety standard.”

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Air Taxi Manufacturers Need to Start Thinking About Pilot Training Now

July 9th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Air Taxi Manufacturers Need to Start Thinking About Pilot Training Now   
Air Taxi Manufacturers Need to Start Thinking About Pilot Training Now

Experts in the industry are warning that air taxi manufacturers need to start creating pilot training programs now in order to meet planned commercial launches in the next three or four years. (CAE)

There is a consensus in the electric air taxi industry that the first aircraft to emerge in the commercial world will not be autonomous. This begs the question, who will fly them, and what kind of training will these pilots need to fly these new aircraft?

Experts in the industry are warning that air taxi manufacturers need to start creating pilot training programs now in order to meet planned commercial launches in the next three to four years.

“It’s really, really important, if the OEMs, want to get their aircraft into service on time, that they’re thinking about this training piece, two to three years out is what we’re suggesting right now,” Christopher Courtney, director of advanced air mobility at CAE, said during a call with reporters on July 7. “We have been doing this for a very long time, so we know what it takes to get there and the last thing you want is a cool we’re getting closer and closer and now we’ve got to figure out how to develop a simulator training program…and it’s going to cause delays.”

CAE and Volocopter announced a new partnership to develop a pilot training program for Volocopter’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft on July 8. Volocopter is planning to launch its VoloCity eVTOL at the Olympics in Paris in 2024, according to the release. As part of the agreement, CAE will invest $40 million to meet Volocopter’s projected global pilot demand.

“As we scale our UAM services in cities around the world, specific pilot training and qualification for our Volocopters will be an important element. We are proud to be partnering with CAE, who have a track record in developing best-in-class, innovative pilot training solutions for new aircraft programs. It will greatly benefit Volocopter’s entry-into-service timeline and scale,” Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter, said in a statement. “We are excited about CAE’s endorsement and look forward to collaborate as partners focused on combining future-oriented technologies to ensure aviation safety.”

Air taxi missions will present unique operating environments for pilots, Timothy Schoenauer, director of global training solutions BAT/HAT at CAE said during the July 7 call. The missions will generally be shorter and in more congested air space within urban environments. These factors will contribute to training challenges such as the currently undefined regulatory requirements for eVTOL pilots and single-pilot operations.

Schoenauer said CAE is focusing on training pilots around pilot competencies rather than prescriptive models with a Competency Based Training Assessment (CBTA) approach.

Air taxi missions will present unique operating environments for pilots, Timothy Schoenauer, director of global training solutions BAT/HAT at CAE said during the July 7 call. (CAE)

“CBTA is the process that we plan to follow for eVTOL training program development and the main reason why is that it’s an internationally recognized process that allows us to write a training program once instead of several times for different entities around the world,” Schoenauer said.

This approach is international and will provide companies with the benefit of not having to create training programs for each civil aviation authorities’ rules, Schoenauer said.

CBTA is based on nine pilot competencies including problem-solving, decision making, situational awareness, workload management, and teamwork, Schoenauer said. This program also places a large focus on gathering pilot data and analyzing it to determine the effectiveness of the training and revise the program if necessary.

CAE is building a pathway to regulatory compliance with a seven-step model to determine which devices need to be used during training and the structure of the program. The steps include: data and science, leveraging a standard and determining what applies, documenting the difference, determining the best way to train tasks, a risk assessment, developing industry consensus standards, and then continuous improvement. According to CAE, they have already completed step one of this pathway with vehicle partners.

“I think what we recognize is foundational training needs analysis needs to be done first and that’s the foundational piece that will build the entire training program,” Courtney said.

To add to these challenges, eVTOL companies will need an influx of approximately 60,000 pilots by 2028, according to research from CAE, in an industry that is already headed towards a pilot shortage, Schoenauer said.

Courtney said he estimates that every aircraft will need about three pilots to operate.

“To support that level of operation, and just knowing how many hours and how many days a pilot can work, the math would lead you to believe that you need about three pilots for every aircraft, for the most part, to fly at the rates that a lot of the OEMs are publicly talking about,” Courtney said. “So, between two and three pilots, you plan for that, and just based on an aircraft number that’s coming out, you can start to do the math and you could start to see where the numbers start to become exponential. As the production rates increase, as we all know with these novel aircraft…is that they’re partnering up with automobile manufacturers and folks that can really accelerate the production aircraft and so you can see as I produce a lot of aircraft, you’re going to need more pilots.”

CAE is also currently working with Jaunt Air Mobility to develop a simulation lab for Jaunt’s eVTOL aircraft.

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Volocopter Receives Prerequisite Approval from EASA to Begin eVTOL Aircraft Production

July 7th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Volocopter Receives Prerequisite Approval from EASA to Begin eVTOL Aircraft Production   
Volocopter Receives Prerequisite Approval from EASA to Begin eVTOL Aircraft Production

Volocopter expects to launch eVTOL operations in Singapore within the next three years. (Volocopter)

Volocopter, the German air taxi and drone manufacturer, received a Production Organization Approval (POA) from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the prerequisite to beginning production of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, the company announced in a July 6 press release. Volocopter will also be acquiring longtime partner, DG Flugzeugbau, a composite aircraft producer.

“Our ten-year partnership with DG Flugzeugbau has been an extraordinary learning experience,” Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter, said in a statement. “Having this legendary industry leader on our side to kick-start scalable and affordable UAM for people and cargo has been a game changer. Today marks an exciting milestone as we unify DG Flugzeugbau’s leadership in aviation production with Volocopter’s pioneering UAM goals to establish yet another crucial stepping-stone for our collective global endeavors.”

Volocopter also received design organization approval (DOA) for its aircraft in 2019 and is the only eVTOL company to hold DOA and POA from EASA. (Volocopter)

Volocopter also received design organization approval (DOA) for its aircraft in 2019 and is the only eVTOL company to hold DOA and POA from EASA, according to the release.

The acquisition of DG Flugzeugbau will be completed during the summer and then Volocopter will adapt and expand its production facilities in order to produce enough aircraft for its anticipated commercial launch, a representative from the company told Avionics International via email. Volocopter had already started producing aircraft in DG Flugzeugbau’s facilities through its previous partnership.

The acquisition will allow Volocopter to integrate DG Flugzeugbau’s aircraft production segment and its new EASA POA, according to the release. DG Aviation will be created with the remaining segment of DG Flugzeugbau and will be focused on DG and LS gliders.

The acquisition of DG Flugzeugbau will be completed during the summer and then Volocopter will adapt and expand its production facilities in order to produce enough aircraft for its anticipated commercial launch. (Volocopter)

“At DG Flugzeugbau, we have always continued to strive for perfection through unique innovation with gliders, vast aerodynamic improvements, and, for the past ten years, with Volocopter’s eVTOLs,” Holger Back, CEO of DG Aviation, said in a statement. “We see the future in these aircraft and are excited to combine a section of our company with Volocopter to invest in the future of sustainable aviation while continuing our tradition of building gliders and maintaining aircraft.”

Volocopter is working on creating an urban air mobility ecosystem that includes VoloCity, an eVTOL aircraft for intra-city missions, VoloConnect, an eVTOL for inter-city missions, VoloDrone, a drone for cargo transport, VoloPorts, vertiport sites, and VoloIQ, a digital platform.

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Will Electric Air Taxis Fly Themselves?

July 7th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Will Electric Air Taxis Fly Themselves?   
Will Electric Air Taxis Fly Themselves?

Wisk, a joint venture of Kitty Hawk and Boeing, signed an MoU with the government of New Zealand to begin passenger transport trials using its autonomous ‘Cora’ air taxi, once it is certified. (Wisk)

As electric air taxi vehicle developers progress towards certification and deployment the industry is starting to ask itself who will pilot these aircraft. Many companies are choosing to design piloted aircraft while others like Wisk and EHang are developing autonomous aircraft.

During a July 1 panel discussion during Revolution.Aero’s Global 2021 Virtual Event, industry experts discussed the path to autonomous flight and the obstacles it must still surpass to become a reality.

While some people in the industry have seen this decision as a more radical path, these companies have rationalized their decision by looking at the current levels of autonomy already being utilized by commercial and military aircraft.

“From a technology perspective, autonomy is actually quite far along,” Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk, said. “So, if you look at commercial aviation, over 90 percent of all flight hours are automated from takeoff to landing to autopilot, etc. There’s the comfort, obviously, of having a pilot sitting in front but the actual workload has decreased over the years. And then if you think about from a defense industry perspective, millions of flights have been flown with very large drones, you know, BVLOS [beyond visual line of sight] drones, that are obviously on missions and things like that, but that the technology exists to make this happen.”

EHang is already operating it electric autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) aircraft in China on about 100 routes under a special permit, Andreas Perotti, chief marketing officer for Europe at EHang, said.

“We have around 100 routes or 100 vehicles in operation in predefined segregated areas based on the special permit…we’re a couple of months away from receiving the type certification for our product and our plan is to roll out 100 new routes of operation in the next one and a half years,” Perotti said.

Xwing is also exploring autonomy but on retrofitted cargo aircraft, Marc Piette, founder and CEO of Xwing, said. Piette said he sees this as a more “practical approach” and a quicker way to achieve certification. While Xwing’s aircraft is flying without a pilot, there is still a human operator on the ground.

Guangzhou-based EHang is using AI for intelligent navigation. (EHang)

“We do still have a human on the ground, mainly because you can automate the aircraft all you want but that aircraft still needs to take direction from the air traffic controller,” Piette said. “So, if an air traffic controller asks you to change heading, change airspeed, climb and descend, currently it’s done over voice over VHF channels, and we don’t look to automate that piece. So, we have humans on the ground that take those calls to translate those into high-level commands that then get sent to the aircraft for the aircraft to execute the aircraft on its own. There’s no remote control of the aircraft. The aircraft will take those high-level commands and automatically execute.”

However, Luuk van Dijk, founder and CEO of Daedalean AI, said that many operations in use today, such as those described by Gysin and Piette, shouldn’t really be defined as autonomous and instead as automated.

“I think it’s unfair to call it autonomy unless the aircraft takes off, taxis, flies, and lands without human intervention,” Dijk said.

Dijk said that as long as there is a human in the loop, operations are being automated not made autonomous which would require the technology to take control of the decision-making process.

One of the big obstacles to this becoming a reality is the common perception the artificial intelligence (AI) used to do this is a blackbox that cannot be certified.

“When I hear things like blackbox AI, that’s this troupe, this misconception that there’s this technology that nobody understands, which incidentally is also why it’s not certifiable, and this scary thing that what if it decides to kill us all. That’s a very Hollywood primitive type of thinking about what it is,” Dijk said.

The first step to overcoming this obstacle is to stop calling it AI, Dijk said.

“We can start by not calling it AI,” Dijk said. “We can start by calling it machine learning…and taking away some of these preconceptions and then you know it’s a lot less scary. It’s just a system that does what the human used to do only better.”

Perception is not the only obstacle autonomous flight faces. Dijk said the industry needs to address the safety of these systems next and then how to regulate and certify them.

Aircraft manufacturers are currently relying on redundancy as a safety mechanism.

“We only have 12 moving parts on the aircraft, and they’re designed such that we can have redundancy if one does fail so you’re not single threading on a single propulsion system, you’ve got redundancy actually built into the system, so I think that part is key,” Gysin said of Wisk’s aircraft.

Perotti said the same of EHang’s AAV. He said part of that redundancy still relies on a human operator being in the loop.

“Our vehicle design is basically from the hardware and from the software side, of course, designed with a lot of redundancy and backup measurements but the last layer of redundancy is, and will also stay, the human being in the kind of command-and-control center which is overviewing this traffic ecosystem.”

For urban air mobility to operate with hundreds to thousands of vehicles operating in one airspace, autonomy will be necessary, Dijk said.

“People are generally excited about urban mobility, you know, to get the urban mobility, to this higher density, you need the autonomy,” Dijk said. “So, autonomy is definitely a means to an end.”

Dijk said that the need for safety within these high-density airspace operations will be the real driver for the adoption of autonomy.

Anne-Claire Le Bihan, an aerospace engineer with expertise in autonomous flying at Acubed, the Silicon Valley-based division of Airbus, said that the safety and scalability benefits will work together as autonomy is adopted.

“Safety and scalability are definitely great points that autonomy can leverage and improve,” Bihan said. “If we look at the current number of pilots that are available now, not that many pilots, so in order to really scale the operations, we need to increase the autonomy in order to enable more vehicles in the air.”

The scalability of these operations will also be key to their success to make them more affordable. Perotti said the affordability of air taxi operations will be a big part of the success of the industry.

“At the end of the day, if we do not manage to achieve a business case and especially a reasonable price for the end consumer, there is no need for our industry and we’re not going to succeed because we shouldn’t forget that what we’re doing here is not innovative in the way how we bring people or cargo or goods from A to B,” Perotti said.

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Avionica CEO Talks Exiting GE Aviation Joint Venture

July 7th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Avionica CEO Talks Exiting GE Aviation Joint Venture   
Avionica CEO Talks Exiting GE Aviation Joint Venture

Avionica has exited its joint venture with GE Aviation and is operating as an independent company again. (Avionica)

In May 2018, Avionica established a joint venture with one of the most successful companies in the history of the aviation industry, GE Aviation, in an effort to take aircraft parts and engines data analysis to new levels of efficiency. Three years later, the Miami, Florida-based avionics maker is an independent company again, supplying miniaturized aircraft data collection and wireless data transmission technology to commercial airlines.

Avionics International recently caught up with Avionica CEO Raul Segredo on a Zoom call from his South Miami office to discuss how they were able to exit the joint venture with GE, and how he sees their relationship as avionics supplier of aircraft data acquisition and interfacing systems to airlines becoming more of a service-based model in the next few years.

“Before we struck this deal, I saw, as the engineer that I am, General Electric as a paragon of technical brilliance. Now, having been part of GE for several years, I can attest to you that that’s the absolute truth,” Segredo said. “GE simply knows how to do things that no other company in the world can do and countries aspire to replace and to duplicate. We didn’t duplicate what they did, but we took their best ideas and distilled it into very small, lightweight avionics.”

The 2018 joint venture was an expansion of the partnership Avionica first established with GE in 2016 when the engine manufacturer announced it would be using Avionica’s avSYNC aircraft data transfer service for health management of CF34-3 engines on Bombardier 600 jets. In an interview with GE at the time, the company said it specifically chose Avionica because of the adaptability of its quick access recorder technology.

“At the time, [former GE Aviation CEO] David Joyce’s lure to Avionica was that he wanted to be able to collect data about his engines so that operators could be alerted to problems that could impact their ability to keep their engines on wing. You have to remember, their business is all razors and blades, with the engines being the razors and the maintenance or support services the blades. They don’t make money when the engine isn’t working, especially under power-by-the-hour contracts. We have the means and [supplemental type certifications] STCs and equipment to capture data on practically every Part 25 aircraft produced, but the key was making it affordable to customers,” Segredo said.

A little more than one year into the new joint venture, a major new deal was revealed involving hardware supplied by Avionica and data analytics and services from GE. At the 2019 National Business Aviation Association annual conference and exhibition, a new program called Smart Link Plus was announced by Bombardier featuring Avionica’s onboard network system (ONS), aviONS, installed in the electric equipment bay of older Challenger and Global jets.

The aviONS box is an all-in-one remote data concentrator, airborne data loader, quick access recorder (QAR) and server with up to one terabyte of storage for aircraft and flight operational data. GE licensed the product’s intellectual property and provided it to legacy Challenger and Global operators as a free upgrade and the enabler of their associated digital aircraft health management and data services.

The deal served as a prime example of what their JV could offer the industry. Small easily upgradable data processing systems capable of serving as onboard network servers, quick access recorders, and aircraft interface devices from Avionica and GE’s analytics software to optimize the way fleet operators acquire, analyze and store operational data.

However, just six months after the Smart Link Plus announcement, the COVID-19 global pandemic would park nearly half the world’s fleet of passenger-carrying airplanes. Airlines and aviation OEMs shed thousands of jobs and lost millions in revenue amid historic lows in passenger air travel.

“Everybody in the industry was laying people off. General Electric was laying people off, Honeywell was laying people off, everybody was laying people off, and that was just contrary to everything that I wanted to accomplish. So, we didn’t do that at Avionica. It was at some peril that we did that. But as I told the people that were leading me at that point in time, I said, I can’t get my mission accomplished, and lay people off. Aside from the fact that you know, it would destroy everything that I’ve been working on, for the last 29 years,” Segredo said.

Segredo said that one of his earliest goals in starting Avionica was to grow the company to 1,000 or more employees, and although that will prove difficult even if the commercial airline industry is able to return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels of international passenger air travel, it drove him to approach GE and re-purchase the company.

A new graphic provided by Avionica showing their revamped “3.0” team, with CEO Raul Segredo a the top, as the company approaches 30 years in operation. (Avionica)

“When this pandemic started, my objective of getting to a thousand livelihoods was really dimming in a big way. We were very blessed that they gave me the opportunity to buy the business back,” Segredo said. “I’m very pleased to say that we’re coming out of this pandemic at full strength. Avionica has its full team in-tact ready to serve our customers.”

The Avionica founder said that they’re focusing on business jets, regional carriers, and the air cargo market at the moment since those are among the most active sectors on the commercial side of air transportation.

The first half of 2021 proved to be an active one for the company.

Air France Hop, a regional subsidiary of Air France, is currently in the process of upgrading its ATR, Bombardier, and Embraer fleet with their onboard network server, and they’re also in talks with several other undisclosed regional carriers.

In March, a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certification (STC) approval for their satLINK MAX was achieved for the Airbus A320 family. Avionica also established a new partnership with SmartSky Networks on June 1, which will exploit their onboard data collection technology by coupling it with SmartSky’s in-flight connectivity (IFC) network and Skytelligence platform.

Within the next few years, Segredo believes that the use of cloud computing, data analytics, and digital services will become increasingly important in how operators ultimately invest in their aircraft electronics systems for flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) and other aircraft health-related programs or applications.

“We’re not aspiring to just sell quick access recorders to operators in the future. We’re aspiring to sell their access to the data on a timely basis for them to accomplish their mission. We’re envisioning equipment on the aircraft that has multifunction, and there will be no need for a federated quick access recorder, flight data recorder, and aircraft interface device,” Segredo said. “One of the things that our engineers are innovating around is how to mix those separated functions into that same small box. How do we mix the QAR, AID and even the [Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System] ACARS data together in a tiny little box so that we make it easier for airlines from a spares and equipment perspective?”

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