Skydweller Aero, developers of an ultra-persistent solar-powered drone, will establish headquarters in Oklahoma City, with plans to hire up to 120 engineers. (Skydweller Aero)
Skydweller Aero, a developer of ultra-persistent drones for commercial and military applications, has chosen Oklahoma City as its corporate headquarters, with plans to increase operations to 120 aerospace engineering and field technician jobs by 2024.
Founded by John Parkes and Robert Miller, Skydweller purchased the assets and intellectual property of the Swiss Solar Impulse project, which invested $190 million in developing experimental aircraft that in 2016 proved capable of circumnavigating the globe using only solar power.
Skydweller is in the process of converting the Solar Impulse design from a manned aircraft to an autonomous drone, capable of ‘dwelling’ over a location for months at a time without the need for refueling or maintenance work.
To accomplish this, Skydweller has a 72-meter wing span covered with 2,900 sq. ft. of photovoltaic cells, which provide 2 kilowatts of power. Hydrogen fuel cells can be added for extra reliability, especially in poor weather conditions. Skydweller can cruise up to 100 kts and has an operational ceiling of 45,931 ft.
With 800 lbs of payload capacity, the drone can carry more radar and camera equipment than a MQ-1 Predator, whose primary role is reconnaissance and surveillance, though not as much as an MQ-9 Reaper, which often carries armaments as well.
“There are certainly differentiated missions that Skydweller can do that no other aircraft can do, but the core of it really is doing things that we do today better, smarter, cheaper, more effectively,” co-founder John Parkes told Avionics. “And that is communications — being a node in the sky whether for the military and first responder market or for the telecom world. And for the military specifically, doing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions from an airborne perspective more effectively.”
The U.S. Air Force recently announced it is looking for a Reaper replacement — called “MQ-X” — to enter service around 2031. Though the Skydweller wouldn’t be able to fulfill all of the capabilities of the Reaper, as it isn’t designed to carry armaments, it could offer greatly reduced complexity and operating costs for ISR missions.
“Being able to fly thousands of miles, persist over an area for 30-60 days and fly back is a differentiator,” said Parkes. “It’s a huge cost savings to the U.S. government when you look at the whole cost of doing a lot of the national security missions that we have.”
In addition to reducing requirements for operating bases, Skydweller would require exponentially fewer takeoffs and landings than an MQ-1 or MQ-9, reducing the need for multiple platforms flying in a conveyer belt as well as associated maintenance costs.
“For us, if you’re flying 90 days with one aircraft, that’s two takeoffs and landings versus … hundreds,” Parkes said.
Outside of military applications, Skydweller’s medium-altitude, ultra-long endurance (MALE) drone could also provide cost-effective connectivity for remote populations. Though space-based connectivity solutions are improving, such as SpaceX’s low Earth orbit Starlink constellation, an aircraft at medium altitude will offer significantly more efficient use of spectrum than satellites more than 300 miles above the surface, Parkes said.
Though Parkes doesn’t expect the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to finish their integration of unmanned aircraft into manned airspace any time soon, he believes governments will be interested in using Skydweller for communications applications to grant waivers. The aircraft is being designed to meet FAA Part 23 certification requirements.
Advancements in solar cells, batteries and other technologies driven by Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk and numerous other players has rendered most of Skydweller’s development a “systems engineering exercise,” Parkes told Avionics — aside from its autonomy systems and ultra-redundant flight control systems, which comprised the bulk of the company’s engineering investment.
Skydweller raised $32 million in its Series A, including investment from Italian aerospace giant Leonardo, which owns about 17 percent of the company and controls one of seven board seats. Leonardo will also lead military relationships for the company in the United Kingdom, Poland, and Italy.
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BAE Systems is expanding its presence in the aircraft electrification market to include energy management and engine control systems. (BAE Systems)
BAE Systems is expanding its presence in the aircraft electrification market to include energy management and engine control systems for hybrid and fully-electric aircraft — both regional/business jets and urban air mobility systems.
“We’re combining our power management experience from ground-based hybrid buses with our flight and engine controls experience to enter the market for energy management for hybrid and all-electric aircraft,” said Yeshwanth Premkumar, business development and strategy lead for BAE Systems’ aircraft electrification program. “Right now, we’re busy developing new energy management systems and combining them with controls for hybrid engines on regional jets and turboprops. This new development enables us to advance our proven energy management and controls technology and work on hybrid electric demos in the future.”
Citing airlines’ increasing interest in reducing fuel costs and carbon emissions, BAE Systems plans to provide these systems to the next generation of aircraft propulsion systems.
“It’s really a natural progression for our business, as our engine controls support an install base of more than 30,000 aircraft,” added Premkumar.
In August 2019, BAE announced its move into the aircraft electrification market, primarily focusing on energy management, flight control and power conversion systems for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) systems.
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Airbus has concluded its two-year Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off & Landing (ATTOL) project using an A350-1000 pictured here. Photo: Airbus
Airbus is concluding a two-year effort, the Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off and Landing (ATTOL) project, that featured two world-firsts for the aviation industry: fully automatic vision-based takeoffs and landings, controlled using on-board image recognition technology.
The ATTOL project is a technological flight demonstrator initiative that first began at Airbus in June 2018, as part of the French airplane maker’s goal of understanding how to safely increase the use of autonomy within different types of aircraft. In January Airbus confirmed the completion of a December 2019 flight test using image recognition technology in place of an Instrument Landing System to perform an automatic takeoff.
Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini also recently confirmed the other world-first completed by the project during a keynote speech and question and answer session led by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a fully autonomous runway landing that occurred as part of a flight to Beijing to deliver COVID-19 related medical equipment to hospitals in Europe.
“We recently reached a new milestone, after performing the first fully autonomy based vision takeoff, we have just achieved the first fully automatic vision-based taxi and landing, this is the first time ever an aircraft has been able to take off taxi and land totally autonomously. The biggest difficulty in this was convincing pilots to not do anything and keep their hands off the throttle,” Vittadini said.
Airbus CTO Grazia Vittadini said one of the most difficult parts of the ATTOL vision-based takeoffs and landings was ensuring pilots kept their hands off the controls. Photo: Airbus
Over the two-year campaign, ATTOL conducted a total of 500 test flights, the majority of which were dedicated to gathering raw video data and supporting fine-tuning of algorithms. Six test flights, including five-takeoffs and landings per run were used to evaluate the autonomous flight capabilities developed across various divisions of Airbus on a modified A350. These included the Airbus engineering and technology teams, Airbus Defense and Space as well as the Silicon Valley-based Airbus A³ or Project Wayfinder wing of the French airplane maker.
Avionics modifications to the A350-1000 used for the ATTOL tests included upgrades to the flight control computer and the installation of cameras and computing capabilities linked to those cameras, Sebastien Giuliano, project leader for ATTOL told Avionics International in February.
During her appearance on AIAA’s recent plenary, Grazia discussed how the algorithms used by A³ were also featured on the A350 ATTOL flights.
“The learnings from that specific program flew seamlessly into the rest of the Airbus portfolios, the very same algorithms on ATTOL allowed us to have the first ever automated taxi take off and landing,” Vittadini said. “A lot of what we do is already driven by autonomy, think of the features on our aircraft, auto pilot, fly by wire, autopilot, autoland type of features, think of satellites there’s nothing more autonomous than a satellite flying totally autonomous in service for 15 years, so we don’t want to have autonomy as an objective but really want to explore all associated technologies.”
Airbus has not stated when or where it expects to eventually feature this technology within a commercial aircraft design, however Vittadini said their next steps are to focus on how to certify such technology and integrate it into future systems safely.
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The AeroMax electronically steered array shown in an industry-standard radome. Photo: NXT Communications
NXT Communications, a new mobile connectivity company in Atlanta, announced today that it has completed design of a low-cost, flat-panel satellite antenna for the commercial and defense aviation markets. Additionally, NXT Communications named Carl Novello as its CTO.
Novello was the former VP of Solutions for Kymeta, and VP of Product at Intellian —where he led the tri-band Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) antenna development.
NXTCOMM’s high-capacity, flat panel satellite antenna aims to provide greater performance at lower price points. The design uses standard Printed Circuit Board (PCB) manufacturing technology with commercial off-the-shelf components and a unique modular sub array topology scalable to any form factor.
Leveraging advancements in RF and semi-conductor packaging and manufacturing technology, the AeroMax antenna “optimizes a highly integrated silicon-based chipset and sub-array design, which serves as the building block for a portfolio of next-generation, lower-cost commercial satellite antennas,” according to the antenna manufacturer. The core aperture that drives the antenna has been flight tested and having been deployed in several defense aviation and ISR applications, the company said.
“AeroMax fills a critical broadband need facing airlines and operators as they resume flights in a changed connectivity environment,” says Dave Horton, co-founder and CEO of NXTCOMM and a 20-year aviation IFC and satcom veteran. “Unlike traditional mechanically steered antenna designs, our antennas are modular and easily mass producible.”
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
The company plans to conduct over-the-air testing later this year, with its AeroMax antenna low-rate initial production (LRIP) projected to become available in early 2021. NXTCOMM’s has a full-scale production facility in metro Atlanta, as well as Part 145 facilities in Georgia.
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Boeing has outlined a number of fixes for its Remote Vision System (RVS), which allows air refueling operator station (AROS) personnel in the front of KC-46A aircraft to steer refueling booms using Collins Aerospace cameras on the fuselage.
The cameras have faced problems with sunlight glare and providing correct depth perception for accurate boom placement in refueling receptacles. Inaccurate boom placement could lead to scraping and coating damage on aircraft being refueled, such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters.
Boeing and Collins Aerospace are working to resolve such difficulties with the RVS 2.0 upgrade.
“The initial phase of RVS enhancements includes upgrades to the existing cameras to provide improved video imagery,” a representative for Boeing wrote Avionics International in response to questions. “It also adds a new LIDAR sensor that provides information about the distance between the boom and the receiver aircraft.”
Boeing said that a second phase of upgrades will incorporate technological advancements for the entire RVS system, including full color cameras with 4K Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range sensors and displays and an upgraded computing infrastructure to provide improved image processing, camera exposure control, and overlay processing.
“We expect the first phase to be available for aircraft modifications on previously delivered aircraft in the second half of 2021,” the representative wrote. “The second phase should be available for aircraft modification and incorporation into the production line in late 2023 or early 2024.”
In a Boeing video, Sean Martin, the company’s chief air refueling operator, said that AROS and RVS represent improvements. Boom operators in the back of Boeing KC-135s and KC-10s must lie on their stomachs for 40 minutes to look out a window to steer a refueling boom manually into the receptacle.
The KC-46A has an air refueling operator station (AROS) at the front of the aircraft for remote steering of the boom into refueling receptacles. Pictured is a demonstrator version of AROS in 2015. Photo: U.S. Air Force
In addition to the physical ease in operating the boom remotely, the KC-46A will provide easier night time refueling because of the cameras, while night time refueling with the legacy tankers used one wing tip light, Martin said. Unlike the KC-135 but like the KC-10, the KC-46A, a modified 767, also has a hose and drogue system to refuel NATO planes.
“RVS goes beyond the ability of human sight,” Boeing wrote in its response. “It provides exceptional performance when operating in low to no-light conditions as well as covert operations. Traditionally, tanker operators rely on lights to illuminate the receiver aircraft and receiver pilots have to remove night vision goggles for up to 10 minutes prior to refueling contact. Neither is necessary when using RVS, which is significant in a combat environment. Further, boom operators report the stress on their bodies is greatly reduced when seated at the RVS station compared to the traditional position of lying on their stomachs.”
Yet, a number of boom operators and former boom operators also praise the eyes-on, manual steering employed on KC-135s and KC-10s and are skeptical of RVS and the remote steering technology.
“The Dutch used a remote system on their KDC-10s for years so it can be done, but I’m not aware of problems they may have had,” Steven Reeff, the president of the Inflight Refueling (IFR) Association, wrote in an email to Avionics. “Personally, I’m tied to the traditional boom pod for refueling. If I took a poll of our membership I’m guessing most would say the same thing.”
Mike Runyan, a retired KC-135 boom operator, recalled telling Boeing engineers not to pursue a remote refueling approach at the 2009 annual boom symposium held at the Air Force boom operator schoolhouse at Altus AFB, Okla.
“We told them not to do it,” Runyan said in a telephone interview with Avionics. “The retired boom operators and even the active duty ones said don’t do it because of the experience we had in the back of the airplane. You could see what was going on for peripheral vision, eyes on the target. Now, instead of a boom operator, you have a panel operator [with the KC-46A]. The idea to ‘fly, fight, and win’ is really compromised. When your computers go down, you can’t see the receiver in the back. It’s a poor airplane really. I wouldn’t fly in one.”
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Aviage Systems and Shenzhen Donica Electronic Technology Co., Ltd. has recently signed an exclusive cooperation agreement, and jointly launched the first Quick Access to Cockpit Voice Recorder for the Boeing 787. Photo: Aviage Systems
A new quick access to cockpit voice recorder (QACVR) has been developed for the Boeing 787 by Aviage Systems to give Chinese airlines easier and faster access to audio collected on any given flight.
Aviage Systems, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), developed the QACVR in partnership with Shenzhen Donica Electronic Technology Co., under an exclusive new cooperation agreement. The two companies say they’re looking to “develop the global QACVR market” using the new box.
QAVCR technology is described by Aviage as providing cockpit voice recording and storage with synchronized clock information. A key capability that Chinese airlines will be able to unlock is its ability to support on ground playback and quickly export audio data for flight management. Since there was no existing QACVR available on the market for the 787, Aviage and Donica saw it as a new market opportunity for airlines operating in China.
Development of the new recorder was also driven by a recent recommendation made by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) for the use of the new technology by Chinese carriers.
“QACVR will not replace CVR. It’s an additional installed equipment to record cockpit voices,” a representative for Aviage Systems told Avionics International. “This is a CAAC recommended product to be installed on the aircraft which can support airlines to do better flight management, not a mandate product. There are several Chinese airline customers who are interested in this, and one is very close to a final contract.”
Although this is the first QACVR the two companies have developed for the Dreamliner, it is not the first. Donica has already introduced the QACVR for a number of other aircraft types, including the Boeing 737 and 767 as well as Airbus A320s and the Embraer RJ190 among other aircraft types, according to Aviage. The technology has been installed on more than “1,000 aircraft of 21 airlines,” Aviage said in a press release describing the QACVR.
The two companies first started co-developing the 787 QACVR in September 2019, and completed a prototype version that has been evaluated in continual ground testing on a 787 since its completion at the end of last year.
“Cooperation with Donica to launch the first QACVR for Boeing 787 is another breakthrough for Aviage Systems,” George Chang, president and CEO of Aviage Systems said in a statement. “Our business strategy is to solve customers’ pain points with full capabilities of R&D and manufacturing here in China.”
The GE-AVIC joint venture is also the supplier of integrated modular avionics for the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (COMAC) C919 aircraft, which is still in flight-testing after years of delays, though is expected to achieve Chinese airworthiness certification sometime next year.
Aviage and Donica expect to achieve CAAC airworthiness certification for its QACVR by the third quarter of 2020.
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The UK’s Future Flight Challenge, promising £125 million toward electric and autonomous aviation projects, is one of many significant government pushes for competitiveness in future aviation technologies. Photo: UK Research and Innovation
Nations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have made significant regulatory and financial commitments to building sustainable aviation systems in the coming decades.
Some governments are more concerned with future domestic economic viability or military dominance than reducing carbon emissions, but the result has been robust investment across North America and Europe in aircraft electrification, hybrid powertrains, various hydrogen applications, sustainable biofuels and other related technologies.
Britain’s Future Flight Challenge, backed by £125 million from the state’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, is broadly investing in aircraft and related technologies it views as part of a “third revolution of aviation,” according to Gary Cutts, Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation.
“For us, we think that the third revolution is much more about freedom, on-demand services, and giving options to people … a much more thoughtful use of aviation,” Cutts said during a discussion hosted by AirTEC Munich, noting electrification and autonomy as some of the key technologies the British government hopes will improve mobility and address congestion.
Phase 2 of the challenge, which is open for proposals until July 1, will invest £30 million into projects across air traffic management, new aircraft, ground infrastructure and new operating models, emphasizing partners that aim to match new technology with new use cases. Applicable vehicles include regional and sub-regional jets, urban air mobility aircraft and large industrial-use drones.
“Having the use case and public interest front and center is really important for us,” Cutts said. “We don’t want to do a technology push and then somewhere downstream try to persuade people that they should like these aircraft. You need to do it much more exhaustively than that. You have to find use cases that the public want, that they’re fascinated by.”
For the United States, domestic economic interest is the driving force, alongside assuring future military dominance and supply chain security. The U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program, with $35 million in funds for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, is focused on reducing investment risk and assisting regulators in granting type certification, specifically for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
“If the hypothesis of the future of vertical flight is true, we want to make sure we’re growing that market domestically,” said Col. Nathan Diller, Agility Prime team lead and director of AFWERX.
Agility Prime intends to begin test flights “in the next several months,” Col. Diller said. Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies were recently announced as leading vehicle participants in the program.
Joby is also the only currently-ready vehicle provider for NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign, previously known as the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge. The first developmental test flights will occur this spring, according to program manager Starr Ginn.
That program, funded at about $20 million annually and slated to run until at least 2028, intends to collect data across a variety of areas — vehicle performance, airspace integration, infrastructure requirements — to help the Federal Aviation Administration form requirements across many areas, including reserve requirements and how to interface with air traffic control during various contingency scenarios.
Current schedule for NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. (NASA/Starr Ginn)
NASA recently released renewed its call for vehicle information exchange partners, seeking companies close to flying their prototypes that could work with the AAM campaign once they have completed envelope expansion.
The Bavaria region of Germany, home to a number of major OEMs as well as prominent aviation startups (including Lilium and Volocopter), is also investing heavily in its future competitiveness. The government intends to invest a “3-digit million amount of Euros” in its high-tech agenda, according to Peter Schwartz, managing director of bavAIRia. That agenda includes aerospace, AI, robotics and hydrogen technologies.
All levels of the Canadian government are supporting clean mobility as part of a broader industrial push to develop clean technologies, reduce emissions and “future-proof” the economy. Through the Clean Growth Hub, a group of 16 different government agencies and funding streams, Canada is investing more than $1.6 billion per year in clean technologies.
In British Columbia, additional regulatory levers are being used to aggressively encourage sustainable mobility. By 2040, every new car sold in the province will be a zero-emissions vehicle. In February, the province also passed a tax exemption for all electric aircraft and related services, but there isn’t yet a mandate regarding aviation emissions. J.R. Hammond, founder and CEO of Canadian Air Mobility, is advocating to require all flights less than 1.5 hours to be emission-free in twenty years.
“[Climate change] is not an ‘I’ problem. It is not a ‘you’ problem. It is a ‘we’ problem. With that mentality, it really opens up some solid ground for creating collaborations beyond the conventional borders we know as countries at the moment,” said J.R. Hammond, founder and CEO of Canadian Air Mobility, which is advocating to include clean aviation technologies as part of the future of the Cascadia Corridor that connects the northwest United States with Vancouver.
There is significant cross-border cooperation between many of these projects. NASA’s renewed call for vehicle information exchange partners allows foreign companies to participate; Ginn stressed the importance of coordination between FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to create common future standards and avoid a partitioned future global market.
But competition exists as well. Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States — all nations with sizable aerospace sectors — want to ensure they are competitive in the future aviation ecosystem, to include electric, hybrid and hydrogen systems.
The ‘tipping point’ for investment in truly sustainable aviation may now be behind us.
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F-35 deliveries have resumed after a temporary pause due to damage discovered on a system that protect’s the fighter jet’s engine from lightning strikes. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The contractor of the U.S. military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter paused deliveries in early June for three weeks to investigate damage on the system that protects the aircraft’s engine from lightning strikes, but has since resumed deliveries.
Damage was discovered on a tube of an F-35A’s Onboard Inert Gas Generation System, or OBIGGS, during a routine maintenance check at Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin said in a June 24 statement that the company initiated a delay in deliveries to verify that production was conforming to the specifications of OBIGGS installation. The system generates nitrogen-enriched air in the aircraft’s fuel tanks to render them inert in the case of a lightning strike.
Bloomberg News first reported Wednesday on a June 5 memo detailing the halt in deliveries, which also stated that 14 of 24 Air Force F-35 models had been inspected.
“We are working with the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) on a root cause corrective action investigation to determine next steps, as it appears this [OBIGGS] anomaly is occurring in the field after aircraft delivery,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. “As a safety precaution, the JPO recommended to unit commanders that they implement a lightning flight restriction for the F-35A, which restricts flying within 25 miles of lightning or thunderstorms.”
Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee wants answers from Lockheed Martin to explain its failure to deliver parts that are ready for installation, and requests a number of documents from the company’s leader by the end of the month.
The committee sent a June 18 letter to new Lockheed President and CEO James Taiclet saying it is ” investigating Lockheed Martin’s failure to deliver spare parts to the Department of Defense (DOD) that were ready for installation on the F-35 aircraft.”
“During a recent Committee briefing and multiple bipartisan staff delegations to military bases with F-35s, the Committee learned troubling information about how unresolved issues with F-35 spare parts lead to excess costs for the military because DOD must divert personnel to troubleshoot these issues and use extensive workarounds to keep F-35 planes flying,” the letter said.
The Defense Department has spent more than $300 million in added labor costs since 2015, and must pay $55 million per year if Lockheed Martin cannot resolve them, the lawmakers quoted the DoD Inspector General as reporting. From December 2015 to June 2018, DoD personnel submitted more than 15,000 requests related to defective spare parts to Lockheed Martin.
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In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity leaders from Collins Aerospace, Honeywell Aerospace, Air Canada, SmartSky Networks and Qatar Airways discussed how airline connectivity needs are changing in the new COVID-19 flight environment. Pictured here, is one of Air Canada’s business class cabins which feature’s Gogo’s 2Ku connectivity. Photo: Air Canada
As airlines slowly begin flying again, many are starting to look at the in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) technologies they have been investing in over the last decade from a much different perspective than they did prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic, as are the solutions providers that modify and customize their aircraft.
During the first session of the 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series, IFEC leaders from Air Canada and Qatar Airways provided some perspective on how they are reimagining the way connectivity can support new applications and restore passenger confidence in getting back inside of commercial airplane cabins.
“We all know health and wellness is going to be paramount onboard,” Norm Haughton, director of in-flight entertainment and connectivity for Air Canada said during the virtual roundtable. “It is a pandemic that scared us all, so a part of rebuilding confidence onboard, I think the Internet has a role to play in that. At least for me, with travel anxiety, being connected with friends and family helps. How can we reimagine products onboard to help with that? I think connectivity is going to play a role there.”
Air Canada first started offering Gogo’s 2Ku satellite connectivity to passengers in June 2018, with pilot and maintenance operational needs for connectivity becoming more prominent in the new COVID-19 environment. One aspect of the passenger experience that Haughton said Air Canada will most likely keep moving forward is seatback IFEC screens. While most airlines have started removing seatback screens in recent years, and their elimination also reducing passenger touchpoint in cabins, he said Air Canada’s studies and passenger feedback in recent years has shown they are still necessary to enable flexibility in how passengers use connectivity – especially on long-haul flights.
When asked whether Air Canada will consider offering connectivity for free due to the financial hardships that the pandemic has caused many existing and potential airline passengers, at the moment, Haughton said that is not an option. The carrier already offers connectivity free to its top two tiers of frequent flyers, while others pay an average of ten dollars on a one-way flight.
“It is a very expensive product to offer for free, one of our biggest concerns also is we fly a lot of large jets with a lot of passengers and we have to protect the experience. Once we’re confident enough that free could equal a really good experience and provide the yield benefits we’re looking for, we can certainly consider it further,” Haughton said.
On the same day as the Cabin Chats roundtable, Qatar Airways announced it had resumed flights to Budapest, Dhaka, Istanbul and New York, while also increasing frequencies elsewhere up to 270 weekly flights to more than 45 destinations. The airline never stopped flying and never turned its connectivity off during the pandemic, although deliveries of some aircraft have been delayed, which did impact the Doha-based carrier’s ability to start operating new connectivity projects and plans it had in place prior to March.
Qatar has been one of the industry’s largest investors in IFEC technology in recent years. At the 2019 Dubai Airshow for example, Qatar became the first Middle Eastern carrier to adopt Gogo’s 2Ku. They plan on installing install 2Ku connectivity and live television across a total of 70 Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s.
That was their second major investment after starting to operate Inmarsat’s GX Aviation on Airbus A350s and Boeing 777s in 2018. Babar Rahman, vice president of IFE for Qatar Airways, said they would like to see more integration of personal entertainment devices (PEDs) into the seatback experience moving forward.
“People are becoming germ-o-phobic, they would like a touch-less experience and use devices they own themselves,” Rahman said. “As that concern grows, they would like to control their screen more through their own devices, no matter how many times you market to them this has been sanitized through UV lights, through chemicals, there will still be a desire to not want to touch something that was touched by many other people,” Rahman said
On the solutions provider side of the connected aircraft ecosystem, the pause in travel has allowed more companies to focus on what they can do to enhance the passenger experience and restore confidence as well.
The technology roundtable provided a chance to learn how they envision their role within this overall ecosystem changing moving forward. Alexis Hickox, head of marketing, aviation and network services, Collins Aerospace, said the company has actually started looking at how it can develop the type of interoperability between PEDs and seatback screens expressed by Rahman.
“Onboard the aircraft we’re looking at wireless IFEC systems that really put the control of entertainment engagement for passengers into their hands. That’s a trend we were already looking at in our roadmap, looking at contactless onboard retail management, crew solutions, enabling passengers to order food and beverage from their personal device, from a Collins perspective it is about accelerating that contactless journey,” Hickox said.
One recent COVID-19 related innovation introduced by Collins is its new cabin air re-circulation high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter installation kit for use on Dash 8 (-100/-200/-300) aircraft. The HEPA filter kit mounts inside an aluminum enclosure along with a pre-filter and is capable of trapping at least “99.97% of the harmful airborne particles that have a diameter of 0.3 micron,” according to Collins.
Hickox said Collins is also interested in learning what role connectivity could play in updating passengers and crew on air quality.
Honeywell Aerospace has also been busy developing new innovations that can support monitoring of cleaner cabin air. On June 10, the company introduced a an ultraviolet cleaning (UVC) system to airlines that, when properly applied, significantly reduces certain viruses and bacteria on airplane cabin surfaces. The Honeywell UV Cabin System can treat an aircraft cabin in less than 10 minutes for just a few dollars per flight for midsize to large airline fleets.
John Peterson, vice president of services and connectivity, Honeywell Aerospace, believes more can be done.
“We’re going to be rolling out and proposing different solutions for different generations of aircraft, they’re kind of like finger prints, not every aircraft works exactly the same, and not every electromechanical solution is exactly the same,” Peterson said.
Right now, the main focus for Honeywell is analyzing the electromechanical equipment it already has installed for various operators that helps them acquire and transmit aircraft data to ground-based systems. A new question the company is considering, amid growing passenger concerns about cabin air quality and the possibility of becoming infected onboard while in close proximity to others, is how they can use those same capabilities to visualize cabin air quality for flight crews.
“We have an install base of our electro mechanical solutions today to help them take the data from the equipment they have on the aircraft today to provide feedback they need to understand for very basic things like cabin air exchange rate,” Peterson said. “Now, you have to put that into a scale or graph or chart, if you have an exchange rate at a high level you have better air quality than if you have exchange rate at a very low level where the air is more stagnant. There’s a tradeoff, the higher the exchange rate, the cooler the air, the cooler the air, the more fuel you burn, so there’s all sorts of tradeoffs that have to happen. We’re excited with how creative we can get when we start thinking about how we want to solve these kinds of things.”
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Honeywell released a new cooling system, miniature satellite communications device and work towards autonomy products for drones and air taxis. Photo: Eviation
Following Honeywell’s announcement of its new urban air mobility and UAS business unit, the company announced new products designed specifically for these systems: a lightweight vapor cooling solution, a satellite communications offering for drones, and the beginning of flight tests for sensors that will enable autonomous landing.
The Micro Vapor Cycle (VCS) cooling system, according to Honeywell, is up to “35 percent lighter and 20 percent more efficient than conventional vapor cycle systems with comparable cooling capacity.” Honeywell’s first public customer is Eviation, which will add the system to its Alice electric aircraft this summer.
Honeywell’s new UAS satcom system, which the company claims is the smallest in the world, brings connectivity via Inmarsat’s global satellite network at a weight of just 2.2 pounds. Though many believe drones will primarily use cellular networks for beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) connectivity, satcom could serve as a backup where those networks are unreliable.
“We see our terminal as the backup communication system for platforms operating primarily in urban spaces where 4G coverage exists in order to fly BVLOS,” a representative for Honeywell told Avionics. “For vehicles operating in more remote areas, this terminal would be the primary communication system to enable BVLOS operations.”
Though the mini-satcom product is being launched by Honeywell’s Aerospace Connected Secure Solutions business, that part of the company is working closely with the new UAM/UAS unit to bring the product to air taxi customers.
Honeywell designed its new Micro-VCS compressor based on mature, fielded units that have been featured on aircraft such as the F-22 and E2-C/D. It comes Honeywell’s Forge – Connected Maintenance solution for health monitoring and predictive analytics as well. Photo: Honeywell Aerospace
The Federal Aviation Administration has not yet established communication standards for communication to enable BVLOS flight, but Honeywell is confident this product will be “well-positioned” as new regulations are developed.
Honeywell has also begun flight testing of sensors that will enable UAM aircraft to land autonomously, which is widely considered a key enabler of UAM at scale.
“Aircraft involved in the testing are outfitted with Honeywell sensors and include cameras that analyze visual markings resembling QR codes, which help guide the vehicle to a designated landing spot,” a company press release stated. “This is a key first step for the future of flight as Honeywell adds sensors that support safer, autonomous urban air mobility operations.”
Data collection involved in this product will continue for the rest of 2020, with the demonstration of autonomous landings taking place “within roughly the next 12 months,” according to Honeywell.
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