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Astronics CEO Sees Commercial Aerospace Recovery, eVTOL Opportunities in 2022

Astronics Corp. CEO Peter Gundermann discussed a wide range of topics during the company’s 2021 and fourth quarter earnings call last week, including Ukraine, supply chain challenges, and potentially supplying some electrical power systems for eVTOL aircraft. (Astronics)

Astronics reported a $7 million increase in aerospace segment sales in its full-year 2021 earnings report last week, and during an earnings call to discuss the results, CEO Peter Gundermann covered several factors impacting their aerospace operations right now, including supply chain challenges, labor needs, and a small engineering firm that they operate in Ukraine.

“I’m sure you’ve heard tales from other companies, but the gymnastics that we have to do to figure out how to execute when a supplier for a program calls up and says, ‘You know those parts that you ordered that I said I would ship next week? Well, I’m not going to ship them for 20 weeks.’ It’s just incredible,” Gundermann said.

The East Aurora, New York-based aerospace electronics manufacturer counts Airbus, Boeing, and Panasonic Avionics as some of the top OEMs that it supplies cockpit and cabin systems to. Astronics reported a 21.1% increase in commercial aerospace sales, attributing the increase to the un-grounding of the 737 MAX and a recovery in demand for passenger air travel leading to higher utilization rates of the in-service commercial aircraft fleet. The company also noted a slight increase in general aviation avionics sales for 2021, and expects higher demand in that segment as well based on the surge in business jet operations that occurred last year and continues into 2022.

However, there are also major operational challenges and pressures that include supply chain and labor shortages, as well as a small engineering operation that Astronics runs in Lviv, a city located in western Ukraine.

“If you look at the map, it’s right by the Polish border, so it’s a relatively safe place to be,” Gundermann said. “But we are disturbed, to say the least, about what’s going on in Ukraine, as many of you are, I’m sure. And we’re concerned about our people there. We’re doing what we can to help, but it’s a weight around our perspective these days, for sure.”

The Astronics CEO further explained that the company has a total of 42 people at the Lviv location. “It has a significant impact in parts of our business, and Lviv is a pretty quiet and restive area at this point compared to what’s going on in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine.”

The company still expects its aerospace segment to continue to recover this year, although supply chain challenges remain. Gundermann estimates that Astronics ended 2021 with an estimated $15 to $17 million of scheduled product that “could not ship for one reason or another, typically having to do with supply chain challenges.”

Labor is another major challenge for Astronics, which had a workforce of 3,400 prior to the March 2020 outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their workforce now stands at 2,200. The company needs to add about 200 new workers to “execute the business in front of us,” Gundermann said.

Astronics introduced its new Ballard mPCIe avionics interface cards for ARINC 429/717 systems, pictured here, in 2021. The cards enable host devices, such as small form factor mission computers, to reliably communicate with avionics equipment. (Astronics)

Amid all of these challenges, Astronics also continued to introduce new technologies into the aerospace market, including an upgraded line of avionics interface cards for embedded aerospace applications. The company also received initial certification for a new cabin in-flight entertainment (IFE) system that uses a distributed network architecture with smaller and fewer boxes as well as an “industry first Wi-Fi 6 wireless access point” for the Boeing 737-800 and MAX.

When Beechcraft completed the first flight of its new Denali aircraft in November, the single-engine turboprop featured exterior lighting and cockpit panels from Astronics, as well as the company’s Max-Viz 1400 Enhanced Vision System.

Gundermann told investors that he has an overall positive outlook for 2022 based on positive demand trends in commercial air travel. He also expects some opportunities to eventually become available for Astronics to provide some electric power systems to electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft developers.

“Airlines are waking up around the world and some are deciding to go forward with major installations and major changes from what they’ve done in the past. The technology doesn’t lie still, even if the airplanes are. So we’re seeing a surge in demand there, including from new customers, which are impressive to me,” Gundermann said. “I talked about eVTOL, electric vertical take-off and landing, opportunities, and how that seems to be a good fit for the capabilities we’ve developed for flight-critical electrical power for small aircraft. And we don’t have news today, but we are furthering our investigations there and extending our reach. And, I expect, program award announcements there in the near future.”

The post Astronics CEO Sees Commercial Aerospace Recovery, eVTOL Opportunities in 2022 appeared first on Aviation Today.

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PLAY CEO Talks A321 Fleet Strategy for Iceland’s New Low-Cost Transatlantic Airline

PLAY, the startup low-cost airline operating out of Iceland, has added Orlando as its fourth U.S. destination. (PLAY)

Iceland’s newest low-cost airline, PLAY, has announced the addition of Orlando International Airport as its fourth U.S. market less than a year after beginning operations out of Reykjavik. Avionics International caught up with PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson to learn how his team plans to use a no-frills approach to operating a growing fleet of A321neo family aircraft, and whether he would ever consider adding in-flight connectivity (IFC) to the all-economy cabins.

Jónsson and a team of fellow former colleagues of Wow Air, the Icelandic low-cost carrier that ceased operations, first established PLAY in 2019. According to Jónsson, several of PLAY’s current executives were working on a new operational structure and air operator’s certificate (AOC) right before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic with the support of some investors they were able to secure.

Jónsson said that while the pandemic had an impact on their launch of the new airline, it never deterred their executives or investment team because of the potential they see in a low-cost airline with a small fleet size.

“Tourism has seen a steady increase in travel to Iceland over the last 10 years, and remains one of the biggest employment sectors in this small country,” Jónsson told Avionics. “It was always clear to our investors that once the COVID restrictions are lifted or at least the number of cases would be in remission, there would be a huge growth period that would ensue.”

Orlando joins Baltimore, Boston, and New Windsor, New York, along with the 23 other European destinations PLAY operates to from Reykjavik, attempting to be successful in a business model that has proven challenging for others: low-cost transatlantic flying. Wow Air, for example, went bankrupt after launching flights to the U.S., and Norwegian Air abandoned its own transatlantic routes last year as part of a series of measures to save itself from bankruptcy.

Jónsson, however, says that the airline is focused on a slow expansion strategy that will avoid having seats that they’re unable to fill. PLAY’s current fleet size stands at three total A321neo aircraft. Their fourth aircraft, the A321neo that will begin PLAY’s first flights to U.S. destinations, is scheduled for delivery in April.

“I’m sure everyone would love to have Wi-Fi, although it has proven to be quite spotty over the Atlantic, and at least in my experience, I’m frustrated when that happens because I’m buying something that doesn’t really work. We don’t offer it; I don’t think we will.” – PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson (PLAY)

“This spring we’ll grow the fleet to six A321neos, and we’re adding the expansion each spring over the next three years to grow to 15 by 2025. We add the aircraft in the spring ahead of the demand growth that typically happens in the summer, because we don’t want to have too much capacity, we want to be the right size for this market,” Jónsson said.

The PLAY CEO said that the A321’s range narrow body operational profile is essential to their low-cost strategy, adding that each aircraft “is probably in the air 19–20 hours a day.” Each A321 operated by PLAY also has the option to add an additional fuel tank for longer routes.

“It’s a completely different business model and cost structure than operating a widebody aircraft,” Jónsson said.

PLAY advertises flights starting as low as $109 and $129 for some transatlantic options and will require passengers to pay for all amenities. One amenity that will not be an option for passengers is access to in-flight internet, since the airline is looking to keep its operating costs as low as possible.

“I’m sure everyone would love to have Wi-Fi, although it has proven to be quite spotty over the Atlantic, and at least in my experience, I’m frustrated when that happens because I’m buying something that doesn’t really work. We don’t offer it, I don’t think we will, it adds complexity and weight to the aircraft and our focus has to be on providing the lowest prices and having the lowest costs,” Jónsson said. “We do offer in-seat power in most of our aircraft and most passengers have their iPhones and iPads, but overall it’s a no-frills service. Our whole purpose is offering the lowest prices in the market.”

According to a Feb. 23 press release, PLAY’s addition of Orlando will make it the only airline to connect Orlando to London Stansted Airport, with their flights from Orlando scheduled to begin in October. Jónsson said the airline is off to a positive start in 2022, evidenced by a Feb. 7 report noting that PLAY carried 13,488 passengers in January and an “uptick in bookings for spring and summer travel.”

Jónsson admits that the outlook for commercial air travel and transatlantic flying is still on a month-to-month basis; however, PLAY’s investment team has included uncertainty in the Icelandic carrier’s business model.

“Our investors are looking at this long-term,” Jónsson said. “We have the funding available so that even if there is a new variant or downturn for some other reason, we could withstand it.”

 

The post PLAY CEO Talks A321 Fleet Strategy for Iceland’s New Low-Cost Transatlantic Airline appeared first on Aviation Today.

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How Airlines Are Using In-Flight Connectivity for Passenger and Operational Applications

(Photo: Alaska Airlines)

ST Engineering iDirect and its partners are hosting a series of webinars focused on advanced mobility technology and its impact and importance to end user customers. As part of that series, which begins with an aero webinar event Thursday, March 10th, ST Engineering iDirect sponsored the following article to gather airline perspectives on the value of in-flight connectivity.

 

This week will mark the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization officially declaring the outbreak of COVID-19 as a pandemic.

While the last two years have been unlike any other in the history of the global passenger-carrying air transportation industry, growth in adoption of in-flight connectivity (IFC) and its ability to enable innovative new applications for airlines keeps expanding.

Recent reports published by Euroconsult and Valour Consultancy, for example, show that for most major airlines, connectivity has become more of a basic feature of their in-flight experience for passengers and a newer, faster medium for transmitting critical aircraft data to pilots, maintenance technicians, and other airline stakeholders who require it.

A Jan. 31 update on global IFC installation trends posted by Valour Consultancy’s Daniel Welch estimates that through the end of the third quarter 2021, the global IFC installed base was just below 9,300. According to Valour, North America remains the most connected and active region as well, with almost two thirds of the North American commercial active fleet already featuring IFC.

Southwest Airlines was one of the earlier North American carriers to invest in connectivity—under a 2013 agreement with Anuvu (formerly Global Eagle)—with the Texas-based carrier’s entire Boeing 737 fleet equipped with satellite connectivity. In an emailed statement to Avionics International, several representatives for Southwest’s IFEC team said they’re still looking at new applications they can enable with connectivity under a new modernization effort.

“On January 26, 2022, we launched the enablement of Venmo as a form of payment in the Inflight Wi-Fi Portal. Now, Customers have three different digital payment options for Inflight Internet including Apple Pay, PayPal, and Venmo. On February 15, 2022, we launched a new movie trailer feature: As customers browse through the movie options onboard, they can watch the trailer instead of just reading the synopsis,” the Southwest Airlines team said. “Since 2015, Flight Ops has partnered with Marketing and Customer Experience to utilize a small amount of Wi-Fi to connect applications on the Pilots’ Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). These apps help support the operation and advise Pilots of turbulence, radar, and updated weather forecasts.”

The Southwest Airlines fleet is equipped with Anuvu’s in-flight connectivity technology. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

On the flight operational side, Southwest first started adopting a paperless flight deck with EFBs in 2014, and has periodically added new capabilities since then. As an example, Southwest pilots use the WSI Pilotbrief Optima EFB application to view live weather in-flight while connected to Wi-Fi.

“In regards to fleet maintenance, flight data, engine data, and real-time data downloads, we have identified a solution for optimizing our operation via an e-Enablement utilizing Anuvu IFE Modernization effort. Since 2015, Flight Ops has partnered with Marketing and Customer Experience to utilize a small amount of Wi-Fi to connect applications on the pilots’ EFB. These apps help support the operation and advise pilots of turbulence, radar, and updated weather forecasts,” Southwest Airlines said.

Alaska Airlines is another North American carrier that was an early IFC investor, first equipping its aircraft with Wi-Fi in 2011, before upgrading to Intelsat’s faster 2Ku satellite connectivity in 2018. The airline has also traditionally been one of the more technology-forward carriers based in the U.S., and it took advantage of the upgraded connectivity speeds to enable a trial period use of the connected EFB applications Traffic Aware Strategic Aircrew Requests (TASAR) and Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) in recent years.

NASA first developed TASAR as a cockpit automation software capable of simultaneously monitoring real-time weather, winds, air traffic, and restricted airspace to provide re-route recommendations to pilots every 60 seconds. TAP is capable of monitoring changes in headwinds and also couples navigation data pulled from onboard systems with real-time information generated by the connectivity featured on Alaska’s fleet. The data is analyzed, and the system then scans the local air traffic center broadcasts throughout the course of a flight for potential conflicts before providing suggestions to pilots for a more efficient route.

During a recent Connected Aviation Intelligence webinar series co-hosted by Avionics International and Via Satellite, Bret Peyton, director of flight operations engineering and fleet technology for Alaska Airlines, said the carrier is still evaluating new operational uses of connectivity while monitoring the amount of bandwidth necessary to provide new connected operational applications for its fight crews and passengers.

“We’re working with some partners right now to take advantage of some flight deck route optimization concepts and hopefully the software, the computational algorithms soak up less bandwidth and hopefully you have that happening as you have overall costs going down from our service providers. Certainly there is going to be an increased demand for bandwidth on the guest side and definitely on the operational side,” Peyton said.

During that same webinar series, several other airlines also discussed how they observed increases in demand from passengers for connectivity that allows them to use the type of bandwidth-intensive streaming, video-conferencing, and other applications that became increasingly important for connecting businesses, colleagues, and organizations who faced COVID-19 travel and policy restrictions throughout the pandemic.

“NSR gathers that demand for in-flight Wi-Fi is at an all-time high as passengers return to flying. This trend pushes airlines to a tight position of making the critical decision of defining their inflight connectivity strategy. One of the tough choices airlines have been battling is whether to offer free onboard Wi-Fi and how to bankroll the associated expenses,” Joseph Ibeh, a market analyst with Northern Sky Research (NSR), wrote in a September blog post outlining some of the insights gathered from NSR’s Aeronautical Satcom Market Report 9th edition.

Tiina Suvanto, head of customer experience at Finnair, was also a participant in the CAI webinar series and explained how the airline manipulated the connectivity already featured on its in-service aircraft—Panasonic Avionics on their widebody fleet and Viasat on their narrow bodies. According to Suvanto, one of the new IFC applications they recently enabled was developed based on the timing of some of the routes they operate between Helsinki and Asia Pacific destinations.

“Like so many other airlines, we have a news solution developed by ourselves so that digital newspapers are delivered to the portal, they’re readable from the portal, and they’re delivered through the satellite connection to the aircraft server. We designed it so that we also get fresh newspapers. Our aircraft network operates in a way that most of the flights from Asia to Helsinki leave in the middle of the night in Finnish time. So that newspaper, Helsinki Sanomat, is pushed to our aircraft portal at the same time that it is pushed to their digital printing house, and you’re getting the news fresh, in real-time,” Suvanto said.

Finnair unveiled its new, spacious long-haul cabin featuring a brand-new Business Class and exciting new Premium Economy cabin as part of a major investment to enhance the customer experience. The airline’s IFEC manager appeared on a 2021 webinar series hosted by Avionics International and Via Satellite. (Photo: Finnair)

Since they offer connectivity from different networks based on aircraft type, Finnair developed its own internal portal, the Nordic Sky Portal, so that the login and interface is the same for every passenger on every flight.

Similar to Finnair, Air France KLM also offers connectivity from different IFC service providers and has internally developed a passenger access portal that makes the user interface the same for passengers regardless of the network they’re using. Sam Krouwer, product owner of in-flight connectivity at Air France KLM said that has been an essential element of their passenger experience strategy in relation to access to Wi-Fi for passengers.

Krouwer expressed interest in the future possibility of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites being capable of filling in coverage gaps for some of the routes included in their current operation.

“What was new for me to learn was that LEO [satellites] could solve the coverage issues we have around polar areas, which is a challenge on some of the routes we fly,” Krouwer said during his appearance on the webcast series. “At KLM, we fly North Atlantic routes a lot, and it is a pain for our customers when the connectivity drops after you reach [the] Arctic region, so let’s hope LEO can fix that problem for us.”

The post How Airlines Are Using In-Flight Connectivity for Passenger and Operational Applications appeared first on Aviation Today.

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OPINION: Four Strategies to Help Airlines Manage and Mitigate Supply Risks

While it may be an understatement to say that the airline industry is exposed to volatility, it is fair to say that the latter half of the last decade was a time of relative plenty. The COVID-19 pandemic and its cataclysmic impact on demand swiftly reversed that. But now, as demand recovers, the after-effects of the pandemic and a confluence of macro factors create the next major headwind for the world’s airlines: supply challenges.

These supply challenges run the gambit. They include major, long-lead items like suspended or delayed aircraft deliveries and a now substantial pilot shortage that has been acutely felt in the US. The industry also faces more tactical, albeit slightly less painful, challenges when it comes to hiring airport workers, securing outsourced heavy maintenance slots, and keeping spare parts inventories appropriately stocked.

Some issues are familiar, and some even predictable—like the latest upward spiral in oil prices—while others appear unexpectedly in the form of a cardstock shortage that has disrupted the process of printing boarding passes, and even a shortage of galley carts. These supply issues represent a risk that is both material and far-reaching—all at a time when demand seems primed to return and radical capacity growth is part of virtually every carrier’s plan in 2022.

The first-order impact will be on the price of inputs—such as oil, labor, and aircraft lease rates—which translates into cost for the airline and a combination of higher airfare (to the extent passengers will pay) and profit pressure (to the extent passengers won’t pay). But the magnitude of these issues goes beyond price, manifesting in true shortages and stockouts. Take jet fuel, for example. Last summer, airports in the Western US experienced an unfortunate combination of leisure-demand fueled growth, low fuel inventories, and a shortage of tanker truck drivers. Not only did the price of jet fuel spike, but some airports in places like Montana, Wyoming, and Utah ran out of fuel completely. Airlines were forced to start tankering (where inbound flights carry enough fuel for the return leg).

But this was not possible everywhere, and in places that it wasn’t, airlines were forced to cancel flights despite a robust revenue environment. One can observe this effect in a more systemic way, illustrated by gaps in regional pilot supply; in a Senate testimony in December 2021, United Airlines stated that, with their partners, they parked nearly 100 regional jets due to a lack of pilots. We also expect to see the impact of lengthy delays in aircraft deliveries this summer when most carriers are flying peak schedules and high trans-Atlantic capacity puts widebodies in the spotlight. In the end, it will be shortfalls in capacity that drive the greatest impact in the form of lost revenue and lost strategic opportunity—not direct cost pressures.

It is tempting to point out that these structural factors are impacting other industries—from grocery retail to auto manufacturing. Traditional forecasting and risk management tools have been rendered obsolete by the confluence of post-pandemic macro forces. But airlines can take positive action to manage and mitigate these risks. Based on extensive research and learnings from client engagements, Boston Consulting Group has identified four strategies for airlines to consider:

 

Share Risk

There is always strength in numbers. In this context, that can take several forms. The first is deeper, gainsharing partnerships with suppliers to jointly fund and protect supply. Another example is the recent proliferation of pilot training programs and financial incentives between US major airlines and their regional partners.

Secondly, carriers, vendors, and even third parties can build robust secondary markets that allow airlines to trade things more efficiently like heavy maintenance slots or expand parts-pooling programs.

Finally, and in its most extreme form, airlines could look to acquire key suppliers, such as Delta’s ownership stake in a refinery, or expand in-house capabilities for things like heavy maintenance or uniform production. Other industries have proven these strategies effective: US pharmaceutical companies maintain a jointly funded stockpile of essential drug ingredients, and third-party solutions have emerged in ocean shipping to better match supply and demand for containers.

 

Radical Transparency

Today, supply chains are better described as supply webs. With so many interconnected elements, increased transparency is an important tool to improve planning and avoid surprises. Airlines should be more proactive and detailed in sharing fleet and capacity plans to help vendors manage potential bottlenecks.

In return, suppliers should voluntarily share their production schedules, confidence in their own supply chains, and early warnings of potential issues. The current silicon chip shortage is a powerful example—the auto industry is suffering most intensely, but that is not a result of their own production volatility.

Rather, the challenge is the result of vendor production issues and increased demand from other sources that have put F-150s in competition with PlayStation 5s for scarce components.

 

Automated Recommendations

Sophisticated planning and forecasting has been a mainstay of supply chain management for years. AI and big data now afford airlines the opportunity to take this to the next level in both scope and scale.

Computers can help analyze millions of data points and predict problems before they arise—such as sensing supply and demand imbalances early, instantly translating a raw material price spike into a vendor production issue, or recognizing where alternate supply sources are a better alternative.

Increased Flexibility From Within

Whether it be temporary adjustments to labor contracts to permit more agile scheduling, or tighter lead times for functions like network planning and maintenance, increased flexibility can help minimize the effects of supply shocks to boost airline resiliency.

By applying these levers and maintaining a keen eye on critical path sourcing across the business, airlines can manage and mitigate the impacts of systemic supply challenges. Airlines that can do this more effectively than their peers will be rewarded with the capacity to capture pent-up demand that others cannot and, in turn, make strategic gains in share and advantaged access to scarce resources in the years ahead.

 

Adam Gordon is a Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and leads the firm’s Airline practice, globally. For over a decade, Adam has advised airlines on shaping high-impact commercial strategies and achieving operational excellence with a balanced focus on cost, reliability, and customer experience. Prior to joining BCG, Adam worked in a leadership role at Qantas Airways, primarily focusing on alliances strategy, loyalty and operational reliability. Currently, he is based in Toronto.

The post OPINION: Four Strategies to Help Airlines Manage and Mitigate Supply Risks appeared first on Aviation Today.

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NetJets Signs eVTOL Purchase Agreement with Lilium

NetJets has signed a purchase agreement for up to 150 six-passenger eVTOL jets being developed by Lilium.

German electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) developer Lilium disclosed a purchase agreement with fractional aircraft operator NetJets during its fiscal year 2021 webcast held earlier this week.

The memorandum of understanding includes purchase rights for up to 150 of the six-passenger eVTOL model being developed by Lilium. The agreement includes related “aftermarket services” as well. In a letter to shareholders announcing their 2021 results, Lilium also notes that they have received strong interest in their electric-jet propulsion technology.

“We therefore will extend our commercial offering to private individuals and business professionals through either direct sales or through a fractional ownership model that we expect to implement through an anticipated collaboration with NetJets,” Lilium said in the letter. “We believe the private and business professional segments will be highly attractive markets and will drive early adoption of eVTOL aircraft.”

NetJets is the latest major business aviation player to sign an agreement with Lilium. Last year, Luxaviation Group signed a partnership agreement with Lilium to become responsible for airline operations of Lilum’s 7-Seater Jet in Europe, including securing approvals and managing pilots.

Lilium hopes to achieve certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2024 through the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA).

The post NetJets Signs eVTOL Purchase Agreement with Lilium appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Etihad is Bringing Jeppesen FliteDeck Advisor to Boeing 787 Fleet

Etihad first trialed the use of FliteDeck Advisor as part of its 787 “Greenliner” program. (Boeing)

Etihad Airways is giving pilots of its Boeing 787 fleet a flight optimization tool, Jeppesen’s FliteDeck Advisor, that the Middle East carrier expects to help reduce fuel consumption on a per-flight basis.

FliteDeck Advisor is Jeppesen’s mobile application that is capable of providing pilots with real-time, tail-specific, in-flight advisories to improve flight profile, fuel burn and flight schedules. Etihad, the largest Middle Eastern 787 fleet operator, has been evaluating the use of FliteDeck Advisor ever since it first began collaborating with Boeing on initiatives to improve its fuel savings. The airline’s current fleet includes a total of 39 Boeing 787s.

According to Boeing, the selection comes following an trial period of FliteDeck Advisor on several of its 787s, where the airline found that the technology “delivered cruise fuel savings of 1.4%, saving an average of 350 kilograms of fuel and 1,100 kilograms of CO2 per flight,” the company said in an announcement of the selection by Etihad.

Jeppesen’s FliteDeck Advisor is an EFB application. (Jeppesen)

Sulaiman Yaqoobi, vice president of Flight Operations, Etihad Airways, said the airline has been “very pleased with the fuel and cost savings” they’ve already achieved using the application. “FliteDeck Advisor was tested as part of the Etihad Greenliner program, and it is great to now see it deployed across the 787 fleet, helping Etihad achieve efficiency gains and reduce CO2 emissions,” Yaqoobi said in a statement announcing Etihad’s selection of the FliteDeck Advisor.

Jeppesen describes FliteDeck Advisor as being capable of analyzing “tail-specific” flight performance recommendations that are “superior to those in the flight management computer and flight planning systems.” By analyzing route-specific data relative to the originally filed flight plan, the application considers a wide variety of variables to include fuel burn, time savings and airplane-specific performance metrics such as aircraft degradation.

Etihad 787 pilots also use Jeppesen Crew Rostering and Boeing Wind Updates for crew scheduling, charting and navigation.

“Etihad has been a tremendous partner in advancing sustainable aviation technologies,” Duane Wehking, vice president of Digital Aviation Solutions at Boeing Global Services said in a statement. “We are excited to continue providing them with solutions that help them decarbonize their fleet while meeting their commercial goals.

The post Etihad is Bringing Jeppesen FliteDeck Advisor to Boeing 787 Fleet appeared first on Aviation Today.

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The Air Force’s AETC Starts Research on eVTOL Pilot Training Requirements

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Nissen, Air Education and Training Command Detachment 62, takes part in a sortie simulation in a Beta Technologies Alia electric vertical take-off and lift vehicle as part of pre-study battery development effort at Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Field, Texas Mar. 3, 2022. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Last month, Detachment 62 of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command (AETC) started a research program to define training requirements for piloting electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Joby Aviation provided the first aircraft simulator for the AETC’s research on February 4, and a second eVTOL from BETA technologies was delivered the following week. Steve Ellis, Ph.D., Learning Coordinator for the AETC, spoke with Avionics International in an interview about their research objectives and methods. 

In describing the role of the AETC, Dr. Ellis said, “We’re looking at how to best train the first generation of eVTOL pilots.” One initial assumption was that automating eVTOL aircraft would make training easier, but “predictions were all over the map—from a few hours to a few days to a few weeks” to train eVTOL pilots. “That made it very difficult to get an idea of what it would take to actually train a pilot. So our fundamental research is on the learnability of these aircraft systems as they’re configured today, using automation and augmentation.”

The team’s research will focus on how automation feature sets can facilitate learning. Dr. Ellis commented, “I don’t think anyone has looked at it from that standpoint in the past, of how do automation features affect how the aircraft handles for experienced pilots and from the perspective of ab initio—people with absolutely zero pilot experience.” Currently, one flight simulator that is being used has several automated features, including automated cruise control, hovering, and altitude control, and the other flight simulator is more manual. This allows the researchers to analyze the impact of the level of automation on learnability and how long it takes for a pilot to demonstrate competency with (and without) automated or augmented controls.

The AETC received its first aircraft simulator from Joby Aviation to use in its research on eVTOL training requirements. (Photo: AETC)

Measuring the learning curve is one of the key research objectives. “We’re hoping to get a third simulator that has even more automation to see if automation really does make it easier to fly,” said Dr. Ellis. “Our flight testing is scenario-based training and education. We’ll give [the students] a very short but challenging scenario with three take-offs and three landings.” 

He described that there is an ideal course within the system set as the standard for where and how a pilot should fly in the given scenario. “What we should see is, with repetition, the difference between a student pilot and an exemplary pilot diminishes. We want to be able to map that out and create a learning curve; for example, by their third flight, errors were reduced by a certain percentage. They were able to fly 50% closer to the target path, or hold airspeed consistently.”

Once the research program has been completed, the results will inform curriculum designers as to how long it takes a new pilot or an experienced pilot to go through transition training and learn to pilot an eVTOL aircraft. Eventually, Dr. Ellis explained, they may look at “how long it takes a rotary-wing pilot to transition to an eVTOL and demonstrate competence as an eVTOL pilot; that is certainly a scenario that the FAA wants us to look at.” From an avionics standpoint, he added, “most of these aircraft are using a Garmin 3000, so they have similar avionics packages, and that contributes to the learnability of the aircraft—how easily pilots adapt to the modern avionics.”

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ashton Miller from the 37th Training Wing receives instruction from a Beta Technologies contractor as he operates an Alia electric vertical take-off and lift vehicle simulator in preparation for a learnability study at Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Field, Texas Feb. 16, 2022. Air Education and Training Command’s Detachment 62 has ongoing partnerships with several eVTOL manufacturers, the FAA, NASA, several academic institutions, and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. (U.S. Air Force photo / Dan Hawkins)

Along with testing the avionics and the learnability, the AETC will consider educational approaches for learning and training. Dr. Ellis described their approach as “a scenario-based, competency-based approach. Students are not taught hovering in isolation, they do it as part of a bigger mission or a bigger skill set. It’s more naturalistic learning.” 

Part of the research includes human evaluation to assess the subjective aspects of the flight, such as observed competency and confidence. There are also several tools used to collect data during testing; one will capture information directly from the simulator, allowing for observation of the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft.

A unique component of this research is that the aircraft are still in the prototype phase while the training and approaches are being developed. “Normally, in the analysis of a learning system, we don’t even start analysis until after the final product is delivered,” Dr. Ellis shared. “This is an opportunity for us to get in on the ground floor and influence not only the training but the policies that surround the training, and provide feedback to the manufacturers on the design from a training perspective. As [eVTOL aircraft] become more and more popular, and pilot demand increases—up to 10,000 a year—what efficiencies can you make to do that easier?” In addition to providing feedback for manufacturers, the team also has the opportunity to inform the FAA’s policy and provide them with useful data.

The post The Air Force’s AETC Starts Research on eVTOL Pilot Training Requirements appeared first on Aviation Today.

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NASA Collaboration Sets Out to Define the Future of Air Travel

NASA’s “Sky for All” effort invites collaboration from stakeholders to develop a vision for the future of aviation. Pictured is an illustration of an advanced subsonic aircraft with an Electrified Aircraft Propulsion system. (Photo: NASA)

NASA is now seeking input from various stakeholders in the aviation community to establish a definition for the future of air travel. NASA aims to collaborate in defining what urban air mobility and other types of air travel will look like in 2050—and beyond—in this shared vision, called “Sky for All.” NASA’s Shawn Engelland, the “Sky for All” lead, and Kurt Swieringa, deputy manager for technology of the Air Traffic Management – eXploration project, offered some insights on objectives for the “Sky for All” initiative in an interview with Avionics.

Engelland emphasized the importance of community input in assembling the “Sky for All” vision: “The team was given the mandate to develop a community-supported vision for the future aviation system circa 2045–2050; we were asked to not constrain that vision, and to think big in picturing that future aviation system.” From the beginning, he said, the team knew that significant community input would be necessary in order to encourage their continued support once this vision becomes reality. Engelland described their approach as co-development with the community, including all stakeholders, from those who fly to those that manufacture aircraft. “We’ve been deliberate in trying to structure the vision development efforts to get that community input throughout the process.” The NASA team put together an initial version of the vision based on their understanding of the direction of the aviation industry, incorporating input from previous efforts. Now, the focus is on producing iterations of the vision with community input. “We are getting some really good input from the community,” Engelland shared, “[but] we’re pretty early in the process so we don’t have specific investment strategies to point to.” 

Kurt Swieringa added, “The benefit of this community co-development vision is that it helps us define what that end state looks like at the middle of next century, and it allows us to go through the process of connecting the dots from where we are today to what we need to do to get to that future vision.”

The “Sky for All” vision will incorporate ideas from numerous stakeholders into what future aircraft will look like and what operations they will perform. (Photo: NASA Illustration)

One of the things driving the collaboration to develop a “Sky for All” vision is the expectation that in the future, air traffic will increase in both volume and diversity of applications, and there will be increasing diversity of vehicle types. Engelland explained, “If you think of the increasing complexity and diversity of operations, we think it’s going to be really important to have safety thoroughly embedded into the system from the outside,” and that will likely require innovative approaches to integrating safety. The team at NASA also envisions automation playing a bigger role in the future. “The increase in volume, and increase in diversity and complexity kind of demands automation. But automation needs to be applied intelligently and in a way that maintains safety,” he said.

Considering the systems and interactions between components in looking towards the future will be incredibly important, commented Swieringa. “I think what we’re going to see in the future aviation system is much more effective communication of digital data, and the ability to use that data to make decisions that improve the efficiency of operations, such as reducing fuel use and increasing sustainability, but also enabling increased density.” 

Once the vision for the future of aviation is defined, some of NASA’s objectives are to identify barriers to achieving that vision, to develop the research questions that will need to be answered, and determine what new capabilities must be created, while keeping safety a top priority. Engelland stated that the transition to fully digital information sharing, and designing a “system of systems” with ubiquitous data sharing, is a key area of capability that needs to be determined. 

Swieringa added, “We’re really looking at how these technologies can be brought together and progress to enable a series of use cases.” This includes things like air taxi services as well as publicly beneficial use cases such as firefighting, emergency evacuation, and medical transportation.

The “Sky for All” initiative was created to bring together the numerous research initiatives already taking place and to develop an understanding of the aviation system that exists in the mid-century future. The NASA team is working in coordination with their colleagues at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who have been pursuing an initiative called “Charting Aviation’s Future: Operations in an Info-Centric National Airspace System (NAS).” This effort focuses specifically on the future of air travel up until the year 2035, in comparison to NASA’s focus on the mid-century timeframe. Shawn Engelland mentioned that NASA and the FAA are in frequent communication to ensure that there is alignment between what the two organizations are envisioning for the future.

NASA first held a soft launch for the “Sky for All” effort in December of 2021 in which they sought input from about 200 stakeholders. Those invited to this initial round of collaboration included traditional flight operators, developers of new aircraft, and manufacturers, including vehicle manufacturers and providers of system solutions like air traffic management systems. The purpose of seeking input in the initial round, according to Kurt Swieringa, was that “we wanted to make sure we tested our processes for receiving data, synthesizing it, and incorporating it into the ‘Sky for All’ vision before we opened it up to a broad audience.” With the recent announcement from NASA, said Engelland, “we’re now welcoming input from anyone who has thoughts to share about the future aviation system.”

The post NASA Collaboration Sets Out to Define the Future of Air Travel appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Combat Mission Flight Test Demonstrates Manned-Unmanned Teaming Technology From BAE Systems

BAE Systems and the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office successfully performed a flight test that demonstrated use of advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in completing a combat mission. (Photo: BAE Systems)

In conjunction with the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, defense and aerospace company BAE Systems performed a successful flight test demonstrating advanced manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technology. The test took place at a Department of Defense flight test range and involved real mission sensors on a manned military fighter aircraft and multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Together, the UAVs autonomously executed tactics to complete a combat mission, and BAE Systems’ Human Machine Interface was utilized by the aviator to monitor the progress of the mission.

The main objective of this flight test was to demonstrate “collaborative mission execution in an operationally representative environment,” according to the company’s announcement. Vice President and General Manager of Controls and Avionics Solutions at BAE Systems, Ehtisham Siddiqui, stated: “The development of autonomous technology is crucial to protect our warfighters against emerging threats. This flight test demonstrates our team’s commitment to accelerate the deployment of reliable and innovative manned-unmanned teaming solutions for mission success.”

In December 2021, BAE Systems entered into a joint study with Embraer’s Defense & Security team; the study set out to explore defense applications for the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft produced by Eve, a subsidiary of Embraer. Engineers from BAE Systems’ Air sector would coordinate with their counterparts at Embraer to research the possibility of using a defense variant of Eve’s eVTOL for applications such as transporting personnel, surveillance, and disaster relief.

Earlier in 2021, the BAE Systems-Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) team was awarded a contract from the Air Force to provide a prototype for the next-generation open architecture signals intelligence technology. This contract continued the Air Force’s Global High-altitude Open-system Sensor Technology (GHOST) program in addition to BAE Systems’ developments in adaptive signals intelligence products.

BAE Systems’ Human Machine Interface, which was used in this recent flight test, “was developed through extensive virtual and constructive simulation testing with assistance from pilots and electronic warfare officers,” according to BAE Systems. The company has two decades of experience in developing autonomous flight control systems which informed their development of the MUM-T technology used in the flight test. The underlying algorithms of the MUM-T suite “enable decentralized autonomous decision-making at the tactical edge, allowing the architecture to be easily adapted for new missions and incorporate future technology,” the announcement revealed. 

Beyond performing the recent flight test, the DOD and BAE Systems will continue to work together for subsequent flight tests, and BAE Systems will invest in additional capabilities in order to increase the operational readiness of its MUM-T technology. In the next phase, flight tests will serve to demonstrate MUM-T integration on another manned aircraft type plus another unmanned platform in the execution of a different mission.

The post Combat Mission Flight Test Demonstrates Manned-Unmanned Teaming Technology From BAE Systems appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Aviation Consultant Alan Lim Talks Advanced Air Mobility in Asia Pacific

Alan Lim from Alton Aviation Consultancy discussed his perspective on the eVTOL market in Asia Pacific and the development of AAM in the region. (Photo: Alton Aviation)

Alan Lim, the Engagement Manager for Alton Aviation Consultancy, shared his perspective on advanced air mobility (AAM) development in the Asia-Pacific region during a recent interview with Avionics International. Lim is an experienced aviation professional who previously worked for Singapore Airlines as a pioneer member of the airline’s Business Transformation team. Lim offers multiple insights into the unique advantages and challenges of integrating AAM in Asia Pacific, and he also discusses some of the key players in the world of AAM. 

The four developments that Lim sees as critical to the AAM industry and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are aircraft certification, infrastructure, commercial viability, and technology. Certification of eVTOLs and other AAM vehicles is happening in the next few years, Lim said. “We’ll especially see some of the cities in Asia Pacific trying to get to the forefront of this and bringing aircraft to market as soon as possible.” 

As far as infrastructure, “What we see is that a lot of different companies in the space are trying to work with different partners to get the necessary vertiport infrastructure into place and utilize existing airports. As eVTOLs get certified, the infrastructure has to come as well,” Lim explained. Skyports, he mentioned, announced during the recent Singapore Airshow that they are going to work with local authorities to explore the possibility of using the Seletar Aerospace Park in Singapore as an AAM hub for the region. 

There are numerous companies and organizations working with regulators to develop a concept of operations for AAM in the Asia-Pacific region and in particular for eVTOL aircraft manufacturing to become a viable, sustainable business model. Some of the components necessary for a concept of operations are route planning, flight operations, safety management, and sales and marketing, according to Lim.

The fourth area of key development that Lim described was technological advancement. There are various startups constantly releasing new designs for AAM, including improvements to battery technology and electric propulsion technology. Developments in AAM technology along with the other three areas previously mentioned “will be critical to making AAM a reality and helping OEMs get their vehicles to market,” Lim said.

Alan Lim named Volocopter as one of the more prolific AAM companies advancing eVTOL services in Asia Pacific. Volocopter has a memorandum of understanding in place with Skyports to develop infrastructure for air taxis, and the company is working towards a 2024 launch date. Volocopter recently announced that it plans to begin by offering tourist flights, and eventually “to connect to other cities in the region, for example, in Indonesia, or even Malaysia,” said Lim. It will likely be one of the first AAM OEMs to commercially launch services in Singapore. “Two other regions with similar plans to launch AAM services are South Korea and Japan,” he added. 

Three other companies with competitive strategies for AAM in Asia Pacific are EHang, Eve Mobility (a subsidiary of Embraer), and Vertical Aerospace. EHang, a Chinese company, has received orders to provide aircraft for sightseeing and charter flights. Similarly, Eve has received orders for aircraft intended for tourist operations in Australia, with a goal of beginning flights in 2025–2026, Lim remarked. “Vertical Aerospace has received orders from AirAsia and Japan Airlines for about 100 aircraft each, and that has put them at the forefront with the number of orders they have gotten from customers, he said.

According to Alan Lim, the key players in the eVTOL space in Asia Pacific are Volocopter, EHang, Eve Air Mobility, and Vertical Aerospace. (Photo: Alton Aviation)

There are both unique challenges as well as advantages of bringing AAM to the Asia-Pacific markets. “The region is home to most of the globe’s busiest and congested cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Beijing, et cetera.” Asia Pacific is well positioned for use cases targeted by the OEMs—particularly urban air mobility and air taxis making short trips. In addition, regulators in Singapore, Australia, Japan, and South Korea are all very supportive of AAM development and are interested in cooperation with their North American counterparts to determine certification for different types of aircraft as well as necessary regulations and infrastructure to support operations. Since Singapore doesn’t have urban congestion to the same degree as other countries in the region, it can be used “as a showcase for some of these new concepts and technologies, for tour operations, and as a testbed for intra-regional operations, which is the next step for AAM operations.”

A key difference between Asia Pacific and North America is the prevalence of private airport infrastructure and helicopters. Use of helicopters is not as widespread in Asia-Pacific countries as it is in the U.S., or in Europe. Lim remarked, “There are challenges around finding suitable locations for infrastructure, [such as] to house vertiports. The ideal scenario is placing vertiports on the rooftops of skyscrapers in a city, but it’s not always that simple: Is the rooftop of that building suited for vertiport operations, for example?” There is a need to find suitable locations and then build the necessary infrastructure. 

“From a regulatory standpoint,” Lim said, “Asia Pacific as a whole is a relatively diversified region with many different countries, regulators with different viewpoints, and communities with varying acceptance of AAM and eVTOLs. For any operator looking at cross-border operations, this is one of the unique challenges they will have to navigate.”

The post Aviation Consultant Alan Lim Talks Advanced Air Mobility in Asia Pacific appeared first on Aviation Today.

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