Virginia-based Ligado Networks received an FCC license modification for its low-power terrestrial network to support 5G and the Internet of Things. Photo: Ligado Networks.
A number of aviation stakeholders, including the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Lockheed Martin, L3Harris, FedEx, and the United Parcel Service are opposing the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) granting of a license modification to Virginia-based Ligado Networks on Apr. 19 for a nationwide terrestrial, low-power L-band mobile satellite services (MSS) network that is to support 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
In April, the FCC unanimously approved Ligado’s application to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-band to support 5G and Internet of Things services (IoT). Various stakeholders including the Department of Defense (DoD), the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA), and Iridium opposed the FCC’s draft order because such a network could negatively interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, but the FCC said that conditions to its approval will ensure those operations are protected from interference.
Now, aviation groups have joined in the opposition to Ligado’s proposal.
“Our coalition, made up of industries dependent upon and dedicated to protecting Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and satellite communications, strongly opposes the recent FCC Order that approved the Ligado Networks L-Band application,” according to a May 6 letter from the groups sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Furthermore, the hurried nature of the circulation and consideration of the FCC Order itself –during a declared national emergency – left little opportunity to address the opposition of key government stakeholders like the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation,” the letter said. “Each of these government agencies, and others, expressed multiple reservations about the FCC evaluation process, the information it is based upon, and consideration of potential impacts. The FCC decision risks the operation of GPS and satellite communications, thus threatening the safety and security of military operations, civil aviation, first responders, agriculture, transportation, construction, maritime and weather forecasting activities.”
But the FCC noted support for the Ligado network from officials, such as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. The agency also said that its order includes stringent conditions to prevent spectrum interference with satellite communications.
“For example, the commission mandated that Ligado provide a significant (23 megahertz) guard-band using its
own licensed spectrum to separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation,” according to the FCC.
“Moreover, Ligado is required to limit the power levels of its base stations to 9.8 dBW [decibel-watts], a reduction of 99.3% from the power levels proposed in Ligado’s 2015 application,” the agency said.
FCC officials are also requiring the company to protect adjacent band incumbents by reporting the locations of its base stations and technical operating parameters to government and industry stakeholders who could be negatively affected by them. The locations and parameters are required to be submitted prior to building the stations, and Ligado is also required to continuously monitor the transmission of power from its base stations and any reports of interference would lead to a rapid shutdown of their operations.
In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on May 6, Eric Fanning, the president of AIA and Nicholas Calio, the president of Airlines for America, noted their organizations’ opposition to the FCC’s approval of the Ligado license modification.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said that, while the FCC unanimously decided to grant Ligado its license modification, a number of federal departments, including DoD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation, opposed the license modification.
“We’re strongly supportive of the development/deployment of 5G technology,” Fanning testified. “We’re all going to use it in our businesses, but we strongly oppose this decision. We think a decision impacting spectrum should be based on data, and there are numerous tests showing clearly that there’s interference on GPS that has national security implications, implications for air transportation and implications for everyone’s life every single day. We’ve proven there is interference there. We would like to have this decision changed and have a discussion about how to find room on the spectrum for 5G that we’ll all be relying on.”
Calio agreed and testified that the FCC decision “needs to be reconsidered or corrected.”
“There are some significant concerns and implications here that apparently the FCC, unlike many other agencies and departments involved, did not consider,” he said.
|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.|
After the FCC’s decision last month, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement that “America’s economic and national security depend on the private sector building the strongest 5G platform in the world right here in the U.S. and since the start of 2017, we have executed on a concrete plan to achieve that goal.”
“We have modernized infrastructure rules so that the private sector can build 5G networks at an accelerated clip,” he said. “And we have freed up the large swaths of spectrum needed to power next-gen applications. Today’s decision builds on the unmistakable momentum America now has for 5G.”
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Max Conrady is the senior vice president of cargo for Fraport AG. He oversees cargo operations at Frankfurt International Airport.
On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we caught up with Max Conrady, Senior Vice President Cargo, Fraport AG to discuss what it’s like to manage air cargo operations at one of Europe’s busiest airports during a global pandemic.
While the travel restrictions from the outbreak of COVID-19 have caused a dramatic reduction in the number of passenger flights occurring right now, the volume of air cargo operations has remained relatively similar to the levels they were at during this time a year ago.
According to Conrady, who oversees all of the air cargo operations at Frankfurt Airport, they’re still managing about 250 air cargo flights per day. The Fraport executive also discusses how they’re managing parked aircraft and some of the regulatory and data exchange challenges they’re dealing with.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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A visual representation of three aircraft reporting states: normal aircraft tracking, autonomous abnormal aircraft tracking and autonomous distress aircraft tracking.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has delayed its January 2021 date for its Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) initiative until 2023.
Under the newly implemented two-year postponement, the standard for the distress tracking element of GADSS will now be applicable as of January 2023 for new-build aircraft. Following a survey by ICAO on preparedness, the agency’s Air Navigation Commission recommended this postponement to 2023, which was approved by the ICAO Council this year.
Initially, the second phase of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Autonomous Distress Tracking (ADT) mandate was berthed as part of its Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) initiative.
Triggered by the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, it was to occur on or after January 21, 2021. To comply with the mandate, aircraft with a maximum take-off weight over 27,000 kg (60,000 lbs) with an airworthiness certificate issued would have to autonomously transmit position information once every minute or less when an aircraft is in distress.
However, this 2021 date has been pushed back.
Perry Flint, head of USA corporate communications for the Montreal, Canada-based International Air Transport Association, said based on a recent survey, no [Member] State has enacted specific regulations on the distress tracking element of GADSS, although many have on the Flight Tracking element, for which standards are presently in force.
“The mandate for flight tracking is in force and airlines are complying. As for distress tracking, the industry should be ready to comply by the 2023 applicability date,” Flint said.
While the GADSS 15-minute, normal tracking standard is now being adhered to globally, many countries still haven’t set out their national regulations in support of its 1-minute standard for distress operations. Indeed, very few operators are complying with ICAO Annex 6 – 6.18 and Appendix 9 recommendations, as they see this as a forward-fit requirement only. Very few aviation authorities have adopted this into regulation yet.
“Airlines and manufacturers need to have those national regulations in place before they can know with full certainty what they need to adjust for in terms of onboard systems, and in light of this we’ve had to provide all concerned with the extra equipage time the Council agreed to earlier in March 2020,” said Anthony Philbin, chief of communications at ICAO.
According to Jon Gilbert, founder of San Diego-based Blue Sky Network, it was the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) that started to take the lead to refine the original mandate on distress based on feedback from major airplane manufacturers.
“Airbus and Boeing had been very resistant to the [original] deadline because they felt they couldn’t modify their line production to incorporate this sort of off-the-line solution,” Gilbert said. “They said they needed two-to-three years to do this. Between Boeing and Airbus, there was uniform push to move the deadline. [Also,] EASA is an independent authority that covers 32 countries, mostly in the European Union. There was enough pressure around the world to re-evaluate the deadline and that’s what happened.”
According to Guillaume Aigoin, senior flight data expert at EASA, the European Union rules for air operations contain two requirements related and similar to ICAO GADSS: CAT.GEN.MPA.205 (the tracking mandate) and CAT.GEN.MPA.210 (the distress mandate). EASA has published Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMC) and Guidance Material (GM) for CAT.GEN.MPA.205. Furthermore, EASA published draft guidance material to support the implementation of CAT.GEN.MPA.210.
“All aircraft types in the scope of CAT.GEN.MPA.205 are capable of meeting this requirement, but so far, EASA has not approved any aircraft type that would permit the operator to comply with CAT.GEN.MPA.210,” Aigoin said.
EASA’s published Notice of Proposed Amendment NPA 2020-03 considers aspects not addressed by the ICAO GADSS ConOPS. To summarize, two of these differences include:
One of the reasons for this postponement was development, testing, and certification schedules were very tight and required extraordinary efforts to meet the original 2021 goal with existing industry solutions. There were concerns that the technology could not accurately determine the location of where the flight stopped after an incident with severe damage to the aircraft to provide satisfactory compliance with this requirement.
Airlines can accept OEM specific solutions — most OEMs are considering ELT-DT (Distress Tracking ELTs) which notify the Search and Rescue in the event of a distress — or they choose a lower-cost option and retrofit their aircraft after their new purchase. The advantage here is they can install this on all their aircraft both forward-fit and retro-fit and have fleet commonality, and be able to receive the position reports directly to their OCC. Below are new GADSS tracking solutions to facilitate the tracking mandate and ease the 2023 transition.
Aviation operators want their assets tracked in real time, worldwide — regardless of the size of their fleets and types of aircraft they are flying.
“They want to know the exact location of the aircrafts in all circumstances,” said Jean-Louis Larmor, vice president of corporate development at Star Navigation. “[Our] STAR-A.D.S. solution complies today with all the GADSS requirements and recommendations. It offers fully automated real-time tracking, worldwide completed by live information on selectable systems. It is already approved on B737, A320 families but also on A310 and Learjet 45. It is currently commercially installed on A320 and A310. We are preparing implementation on several other aircraft types for 2020.”
Editorial Note: This is an excerpt of an article from our recently published April/May 2020 digital edition. Read the full article by signing up for a free email subscription to our bi-monthly digital edition.
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TE Connectivity displays a diagram of four-lane Ethernet capabilities during a May 7 webinar. Photo: TE Connectivity
The Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) is scheduled to release the ARINC 854 Cabin Equipment Network bus specification on May 12 – a standard that will help to open the doors to Single Pair Ethernet.
ARINC 854 “will enable the industry to implement Single Pair Ethernet,” Russ Graves, TE Connectivity’s global aerospace business development manager, said during a May 7 webinar How Single Pair Ethernet Streamlines Aircraft Networks.
“TE is involved with the implementation of the physical layer of this standard,” Graves said. “We believe that this will establish Ethernet as a common bus system throughout the aircraft, as it’s being used today. This will offer significant savings in regard to installation, weight, and space associated with moving from eight-wire and four-wire solutions to a two-wire solution – lower the complexity. Currently, we are implementing this over 100Base-T1 [100 megabits per second-Mbps], but we’re provisioning our components to be able to stretch to the ultimate goal within the ARINC standard to achieve 1000Base-T1 [1 gigabit per second-Gbps]. It is compliant with the EWIS [Electrical Wiring Interconnect System] standards.”
While airline passengers and crews demand higher capabilities from in-flight entertainment (IFE), security monitoring, and other aircraft electronics, designers are unable to meet such demands with the current Ethernet physical layer standards, according to TE Connectivity. The automotive sector recently released its t00Base-T1 standard for Single Pair Ethernet – a standard to be referenced in ARINC 854.
TE Connectivity said that it has developed its Mini-ETH Single Pair Ethernet interconnection system to comply with the ARINC 854 standard for 100Base-T1. David Procter, a product manager for TE Connectivity, said during the May 7 webinar that “the availability of ready to install, plug and play Mini-ETH assemblies fully tested to meet the ARINC 854 requirements would offer a number of advantages, as well as cost savings over traditional custom design cable assemblies.”
These are some of the connectors TE Connectivity believes can enable single paired Ethernet. Photo: TE Connectivity
The company said that Mini-ETH is qualified for 200 MHz and 100 Mbps operation at 15 m (49 ft) link lengths and that the company has a roadmap to support 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps data speeds at 40 m (131 ft) link lengths and frequencies over 750MHz, as well as new connector designs to support higher frequencies and speeds.
The use cases for 100Base-T1 Single Pair Ethernet provided by the AEEC Cabin Systems Subcommittee are to include cabin lighting control and passenger seat applications in bringing data to the screen or data to the passenger.
“Certainly, we expect that further use cases will be defined, as we move to a 1000Base state and applications that we could envision that would go outside of the cabin which would require some further ruggedization of our offering in those applications,” Graves said. “Potentially, you could also implement this with 1000Base architecture over slightly longer distances than what we envisioned in the 100Base standard so we are looking at new applications that would take this into other areas of the cabin and the aircraft. I’m seeing that some of the emerging applications in aerospace, including unmanned aerial vehicles, could be an excellent fit for this technology.”
Cockpit avionics are likely in the mix as well. “The ARINC cabin systems group is focusing inside of the cabin, and certainly avionics in the cockpit would be part of that,” Graves said. “The distances in the cockpit are relatively short so, to me, this Ethernet over Single Pair solution would be very suitable for cockpit applications.”
|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.|
Single Pair Ethernet is needed to accommodate the ever increasing number of screens, sensors, data hubs, switches, solid-state drive (SSD) arrays, computers, IFE servers, and other electronics on aircraft, according to a TE Connectivity white paper, Advancing Aircraft Connectivity with a Single Pair Ethernet Solution. Without Single Pair Ethernet, excess wiring ends up affecting aircraft performance and the environment, the white paper said.
“All those electronics require a lot of wiring,” according to the white paper. “Excess weight significantly affects fuel
performance. For example, consider a Boeing B747-400 wide-body aircraft flying a 5,000 nautical-mile average stage length for 3,000 flight hours per year. Carrying the weight of wiring and connectors (1,814 kg/4,000 lbs) consumes nearly 60,000 gallons of jet fuel every year. The annual cost for that amount of fuel comes to nearly $115,800. The CO₂ emitted by burning that much fuel amounts to 2,785,200 kg (1,266,000 lbs.) annually– equivalent to the emissions from 124 passenger vehicles. To be more sustainable, the aircraft cabin network has to evolve — becoming smarter while growing lighter.”
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Military and industry leaders agree that funding and available engineering talent are likely to be key challenges for the growing urban air mobility industry. Photo: Agility Prime
As the Air Force seeks to ensure domestic technology leadership in electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, military and industry leaders agree that funding and available engineering talent are likely to be key challenges.
Where Does the Money Come From?
Through the Defense Innovation Unit, the military has provided some funding to eVTOL aircraft and technology developers, including between $10-20 million to Joby Aviation, according to DIU director Michael Brown, speaking during Agility Prime’s virtual kickoff week.
Agility Prime, the Air Force’s new effort focused on eVTOLs, has awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts to Sabrewing Aircraft, Elroy Air and other aircraft developers worth a few million each. But the vast majority of funding for urban air mobility startups has come from the private sector, and the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted fundraising activities worldwide. Analysts have reported 20 to 40 percent year-over-year drops in dealmaking activity.
This has hit the eVTOL sector particularly hard, as the primary source of funding for many well-capitalized startups has been strategic venture funds run by traditional automobile and aerospace companies. Joby’s recent $590 million raise included a $493 million investment from Toyota. Zhejiang Geely, Daimler and JetBlue Technology Ventures have all been active investors in UAM as well.
“Not only does [this crisis] create a challenged operating environment for mobility startups, it’s also creating the same environment for many of their financiers,” Asad Hussain, senior mobility analyst at Pitchbook, told Avionics International. “That affects the funding environment for the startups in the space, and if we hone into urban air mobility, I think there’s a real possibility of technology companies — Tencent, Intel Capital, Nvidia — being in a position to gain a larger foothold.”
Most Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms have avoided the UAM space, according to Kirsten Bartok Touw, founder of AirFinance, for four reasons:
For the U.S. military, there’s a greater concern: the source and motives of capital flowing into defense innovation. A 2018 study by DIUx described early-stage investment in U.S. advanced technology companies as part of China’s “technology transfer strategy,” with Chinese participation in all venture deals reaching 10-16 percent.
Threatened by years of defense-related intellectual property theft by China and other adversarial nations, in 2019 the Pentagon launched its Trusted Capital Marketplace, an effort to vet sources of funding and match them with small- and mid-sized innovative defense companies.
“Trusted Capital is DoD’s forward-leaning approach to confront adversarial foreign investment by offering critical technology companies, including those in the UAS market, funding alternatives to potentially risky foreign investments,” said Jennifer Santos, deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy. “We’ve already lost footing on the small UAS front, and we want to make sure that changes brought about by COVID don’t send us back on the next frontier, eVTOL.”
Trusted Capital and Texas A&M University hosted the first Venture Day in November, focused on small UAS, an area where the United States has largely failed to develop companies able to compete against Chinese industry leader DJI. The group’s focus for the month of May, according to Santos, will be supporting defense supply chains through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In June, Trusted Capital will partner with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to jointly host a venture day for a range of critical technologies including radar, command and control systems, aircraft systems, unmanned aerial systems, data encryption, decryption, robotics, cyber, munitions, and machine learning,” Santos said, adding that her team hopes to expand the program to include sources of capital from U.S. allies.
Where Do the Engineers Come From?
The purpose of all that fundraising is to secure a U.S. competitive advantage in eVTOL technologies through the evolution of a profitable commercial industry, and money alone won’t build an aircraft. The availability of talented engineers is seen by industry as a major limiter to the rate of progress.
The Vertical Flight Society estimates that each eVTOL developer will need 500-1,000 engineers to bring their aircraft concept to certification. Those companies will be in competition with the helicopter industry, which is also seeking thousands of engineers in the coming decade for military and civil rotorcraft development projects, including the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift procurement effort as well as other Navy and Air Force programs.
“The workforce is one of those critical bottlenecks that is going to prevent us from reaching this future that we all want, if the talent pipeline is not soon ramped up,” said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society. “We’re estimating we need a thousand [new] engineers a year for the next decade to meet these critical national security and economic needs.”
Government and military-funded Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence (VLRCOEs), established in 1982 to support academic research and training, receive less than $5 million in static annual funding from NASA and the military. A white paper released by VFS in March contends that expanding funding for the existing VLRCOEs would be one of the most effective ways to confront the talent shortage.
“We already have a lot of great infrastructure that we can use here,” said Marilyn J. Smith, director of the VLRCOE based at Georgia Institute of Technology, speaking to workforce concerns during the Agility Prime kickoff event. “Teaching vertical lift is not a traditional engineering education that you get at the mechanical, aerospace and electrical engineering schools across the country.”
Farhan Gandhi, aerospace program director for the Center for Mobility with Vertical Lift at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, advocated for three new funding efforts: an increase of $5 million per year for VLRCOEs to fund more graduate students; $1.5-2 million to hire late-career experts as adjunct professors; and an additional $5 million to fund more tenure-track faculty.
Gandhi also suggested reviving the now-defunct Vertical Lift Consortium, a combined government-industry funding pot for pre-competitive research work, to advance eVTOL-related research and provide more projects for academia.
These efforts, totaling $17-18 million in annual funding, could produce up to 100 additional Masters and PhD-level graduates per year, Gandhi said — not sufficient to satisfy industry need, but these individuals could “form the linchpins” of development teams that companies build around.
Leaders in vertical lift academia also advocated for programs to expand the scope of their existing educational programs to better support eVTOL aircraft and urban air mobility, with Smith noting that the University of Maryland will introduce a graduate program in eVTOL design this year.
Carlos E. S. Cesnik, director of the active aeroelasticity and structures research lab at University of Michigan, said the current mechanically-focused curricula should take a more “systems of systems” approach to including software, operational infrastructure and other elements of modern airspace systems.
“When designing an advanced air mobility system, automation, airspace integration, human-machine interaction, cybersecurity … all of these are as important as the airframe itself,” said Cesnik. “The challenge here is that most of these contributing disciplines fall outside most of the aerospace engineering programs.”
“If innovation is a battlefield, academia is our training camp.”
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The European Commission has officially delayed its June 7, 2020 ADS-B Out airspace mandate for operators of commercial airliners in the region, such as this TAP Air Portugal Airbus A321LR, until December 7, 2020. Photo: Airbus
The European Commission (EC) has decided to delay its mandate for operators to equip their aircraft ADS-B Out avionics from June 7, 2020 to December 7, 2020, according to an amendment published to the agency’s website May 5.
Under the updated regulatory language, operators of certain European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) registered aircraft will comply with the original provisions of European Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 1207/2011 and new amendments allowing certain non-ADS-B operations and a new three-year exemption for certain older aircraft types. Amending language to the provision adopted by the commission also referenced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on airlines for the delay.
“The outbreak of the pandemic of COVID-19 virus and the resulting impact on the aviation sector has led to unforeseeable obstacles for aircraft operators to pursue their activities to bring the aircraft in compliance with certain requirements of Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1207/2011. As a result, the deadline for aircraft operators laid out in Article 5(5), Article 8(1) and Article 8(2) of Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1207/2011 should be postponed to 7 December 2020, and Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1207/2011 should be amended accordingly,” the amendment says.
Changes to Europe’s ADS-B Out mandate adopted by the commission include amendments first proposed by regulators in February, which generated comments from airlines, installers, avionics suppliers and others about the proposed changes.
Operators that submit fleet plans indicating their aircraft will cease operations by October 31, 2025 are also exempted from the ADS-B equipage requirements under the new amendments. Other aircraft that can fly without ADS-B after the new December 2020 deadline include those being flown for export or to undergo maintenance. Secondary surveillance radar aircraft transponder requirements are also outlined in the amended regulation.
Among the new changes are updates for operators of non-ADS-B aircraft operated for state or government purposes. On Apr. 8, Eurocontrol’s communication, navigation and surveillance division published a technical “leaflet” related to flight operations being conducted after the mandate becomes effective. Similar to the 2019 rules adopted by the FAA for non ADS-B military aircraft in U.S. airspace, special conditions are being provided for operators of state aircraft in European airspace that will not be equipping with ADS-B due to privacy or security concerns.
Eurocontrol and the SESAR Deployment Manager published the graph above, showing how many total airplanes registered in Europe are expected to be in compliance with the ADS-B Out equipage mandate by the new deadline, the June 2023 retrofit transition period and the end of the exemption for phasing out non-ADS-B aircraft by October 2025. Photo: SESAR DM
“State aircraft engaged on nationally sensitive operations or training exercises that require security and confidentiality, may also be allowed to revert to Mode A/C. Mode S (ELS and EHS) and ADS-B OUT are not secure from a military perspective,” Eurocontrol writes in the leaflet.
During an interview published in the April/May 2020 edition of Avionics, Akos Barany, ADS-B communications coordinator for the SESAR Deployment Manager described how the amendments to the mandate were designed to accommodate operators of older aircraft and can also help introduce a “transitional regime for the introduction of ADS-B Out and Mode S EHS functionalities in the airborne domain by establishing several exemption clauses and specifying the method for asserting an exemption in the ATC flight plan.”
“Air navigation service providers will appreciate the changes which greatly simplify the arrangements for sharing of surveillance data between providers,” he said.
Prior to the amended changes, regulators had been anticipating 76 percent of the region’s EASA-registered fleet of airplanes to be equipped with transponders and other enabling equipment necessary to comply with the mandate. The delay will be the latest form of operational relief for airlines in the region in recent weeks, following Eurocontrol’s decision in April to delay some 2020 payments on air traffic services.
European Business Aviation Association Secretary-General Athar Husain Khan expressed support for the delay in a statement published to the organization’s website, noting that the extra time will “ease some of the burdens on operators and help the Business Aviation sector continue to play its vital role in the fight against COVID-19 and the post-crisis European recovery.”
Read more about Europe’s ADS-B Out mandate in the latest issue of Avionics by clicking here.
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The view from one of the GoPro cameras installed in the C-130T Avionics Obsolescence Upgrade Operational Flight Trainer. The cameras allowed remote observation of live software tests in Fort Worth by engineers in Maryland, New York, and North Carolina over a two-day period last month. Photo: U.S. Navy
Due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19, the Navy and Lockheed Martin remotely tested software fixes for the latest software build of the C/KC-130T Avionics Obsolescence Upgrade (AOU) program in Fort Worth last month, the service said.
The two-day testing on Apr. 7 and 8 used the Maryland-based J.F. Taylor, Inc.’s modification of the legacy 2F-152 AOU Operational Flight Trainer (OFT) at the Air Logistics Training Center at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. J.F. Taylor received contracts worth about $7 million for the modification of OFT to the AOU configuration–work which the Navy said finished in January last year.
“Accomplishment of the two-day remote assessment was critical for determining if the software fixes a number of high-priority deficiencies that affected certifications required by the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration,” the Navy said. “The proactive identification of content problems prior to the delivery of the final software in June and flight tests during the summer decreases the risk of program delays down the line.”
In a May 5 email to Avionics International, the Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) tactical airlift program office (PMA-207) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md. said that the “software configuration release addressed outstanding watch items to support NAVAIR submission for full RNP/RNAV [Required Navigation Performance/Area Navigation] certification for C/KC-130T aircraft commonly discovered during flight test.”
Lockheed Martin is using its Common Open Reuse Environment (CORE) cockpit for AOU. The company has said that CORE is the “first fully ‘app-based’ cockpit solution designed in alignment with the [DoD] Future Airborne Capabilities Environment (FACETM) standard.” The Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor also uses the CORE cockpit. In March, the U.S. Army selected the V-280 Valor and the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant to move forward in the Future Long- Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition.
Under AOU, the Navy plans to upgrade 25 of the C/KC-130T aircraft. Congress has appropriated about $163 million for the program thus far, including about $13.7 million in fiscal 2019 and $22.7 million in fiscal 2020. The Navy’s fiscal 2021 budget requests $21.5 million for AOU in fiscal 2021.
A GoPro camera installed in the cockpit of the C-130T Avionics Obsolescence Upgrade Operational Flight Trainer at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base allowed teams in four separate locations around the country to observe a software test while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: U.S. Navy
Under AOU, Lockheed Martin is to replace “obsolete flight control displays, radios, and transmitters, with digital multi-function displays [MFD] and navigation, surveillance, and cockpit voice/data recorder equipment that will allow the aircraft to continue operating safely in the modern air traffic control environment,” according to the Navy. “Test completion of the AOU system is expected in fall 2021.”
In its email to Avionics, PMA-207 said that “AOU is a government Lead System Integration (LSI) program.”
“The AOU flight control display design, layout, architecture, and integration is completed organically,” according to PMA-207. “Radios and transmitters were procured through the NAVAIR Common Avionics Program Office. Digital multi-function displays were procured from Lockheed Martin. Navigation, surveillance, and cockpit voice/data recorder equipment were procured from multiple simplified acquisition contracts with Original Equipment Manufacturers.”
To allow the software tests last month in Ft. Worth to be observed by engineers in Lockheed Martin’s Oswego, N.Y. facility, NAS Patuxent River, Md. and Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in North Carolina, the Navy used two GoPro cameras in the simulator cockpit in Ft. Worth to provide live feeds of the cockpit MFDs and the control display units.
“Using the live feeds, the engineering and test teams were able to direct Fleet Logistics Support Wing C-130 pilot Cmdr. Patrick Foreman in the execution of test cards prepared by VX-20 [at NAS Patuxent River],” the Navy said. “Although Cmdr. Foreman had only limited experience with the AOU program, the real-time guidance from the test team allowed him to easily complete the test points and provide thorough feedback on the results. The presence of the Lockheed Martin engineers enabled the team to troubleshoot and discuss test results as they happened, saving many hours that would have otherwise been spent documenting and conveying test results to the contractor.”
The Naval Reserve has 19 C-130Ts, which entered service in 1991, and VX-20 has six KC-130Ts, which achieved initial operational capability in 1983.
The Lockheed Martin KC-130J is to replace the C/KC-130Ts, which are to retire by 2033. The C/KC-130Ts are the Navy’s only cargo plane capable of moving oversized cargo, such as missiles, submarine masts, and fully-intact engines for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter.
“Ultimately, a transition from the aging C/KC-130T to the C-130J is necessary to ensure interoperability and
capitalize on the existing supply chain for these more modern aircraft,” Vice Adm. Luke McCollum, the chief of the Navy Reserve, told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on March 4.
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Auterion’s release of Skynode, a plug-and-play avionics and connectivity package based on the open-source PX4 ecosystem, aims to help drone manufacturers and service providers outsource software architecture and create more industry commonality. (Auterion)
With the U.S. government and military eager for a profitable domestic small UAS industry to emerge, software developer Auterion seeks to be part of the solution by bringing together the fragmented industry around its hardware and software solutions, built off of the open-source PX4 ecosystem used by millions of drones flying today.
The Switzerland and California-based startup this week released Skynode, an avionics and wireless connectivity package that drone manufacturers can either purchase as-is and integrate into their platform or license and re-design to fit their requirements.
“Built on top of open standards like FMUv5x, PX4, and MAVLink, Skynode with Auterion PX4 enables drone manufacturers to rapidly enter new markets by making their products compatible with an ecosystem of payloads, components, services, and workflow integrations that give companies the tools they need to deploy large fleets of drones,“ said Lorenz Meier, co-founder of Auterion and original creator of the open-source PX4 software base.
Auterion also partnered with GE Aviation on Skynode RTA, a version of the product that scales down GE’s commercial airliner-class autopilot system, used on the Boeing 777 and 787, to make Skynode certifiable for operations that require higher safety standards, such as cargo delivery in urban areas.
Skynode is a key component in Auterion’s strategy to help drone service providers and manufacturers focus their limited resources, avoid reinventing the wheel and in turn lower their costs — all goals shared by the U.S. military, which continues to raise concerns about the security of Chinese-made DJI drones.
“The Pentagon has to sign off on every Department of Defense use of a DJI drone,” said Dr. Will Roper, Air Force acquisitions chief, during the recent Agility Prime virtual launch — a program aimed at ensuring the military won’t face similar domestic supply problems with electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
DJI controls 75-80 percent of the small UAS market worldwide and, through its scale, has prevented the formation of an economically viable competitor in the United States. Through the action of Congress and the White House, DJI is swiftly being pushed out of the U.S. military and government markets, creating a billion-dollar opening many small UAS manufacturers — most with less than 1 percent current market share — are seeking to capitalize on.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law December 20, prevents the military from operating, acquiring or renewing contracts for Chinese drones or drone components, including flight controllers, ground control systems and operating software. Auterion’s Skynode and the PX4 software ecosystem comply with the NDAA’s restrictions as well as the proposed American Security Drone Act, which is yet to pass either house of Congress.
In May 2019, Auterion was awarded a $2 million contract by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to enhance its software architecture, moving toward standardizing the operating system for all small UAS used by the government and making every drone application — unmanned traffic management, data analysis, detect-and-avoid — plug-and-play across different hardware providers, reducing integration costs and training requirements while providing the Pentagon access to the rapid innovation of an open-source development ecosystem.
“That is a primary reason why DIU first — but now U.S. Army, Air Force, [DHS] Customs & Border Patrol, a lot of other departments — are looking at PX4 as an ecosystem and Auterion as the enabler of that ecosystem. Because they can jump on this technology curve,” Auterion co-founder Kevin Sartori told Avionics International. “And no single company can do that, apart from of course DJI because they have 4,500 engineers on staff. A small drone company like Vantage Robotics or Quantum Systems that has a dozen software engineers can’t compete with that ecosystem.”
That DIU contract was renewed this year, according to Sartori, and will convert into a program of record under the U.S. Army’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) effort to purchase systems based on the PX4 ecosystem, such as Quantum Systems’ Vector and Scorpion defense platforms, which were released in February in partnership with Auterion Government Solutions, a subsidiary company.
The original SRR solicitation, released in November 2018, includes requirements for “an open autopilot software stack” as well as “an open communications (mavlink) and video protocol,” referring to the MAVlink protocol originally developed by Auterion cofounder Lorenz Meier in 2009. The Army’s Long-Range Reconnaissance (LRR) program, to be released next year, is expected to include similar requirements.
“That first solicitation for the Group 1 software architecture already included PX4, MAVlink, QGC [flight control and mission-planning] — they came to it by using the technology first … and then asking for it more and more,” Sartori said. “Now, it’s a big part of DIU’s strategy, and it’s trickling down to other departments.”
What’s the easiest, cheapest way for companies to meet these requirements? To work with Auterion, Sartori said. His goal is to model Auterion after Linux Red Hat, which implements the open-source computer operating system for numerous enterprise, government and military customers.
“Red Hat works with 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies,” Sartori said. “Some of them, the 2 percent, are big enough so that they can implement their own version of Linux, and those are Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google. Everyone else uses Red Hat Linux.”
Red Hat’s enterprise business was not built overnight, but Sartori sees the COVID-19 pandemic as an accelerant that may increase the adoption rate of Auterion’s common platform.
“Crises change the way that we operate. There is a lot of cost pressure on the government as well as enterprises to save cost. Automation is one way, but not reinventing the wheel is another way,” Sartori said. “I could argue that Red Hat Linux would not be what we know today without the Dot Com bubble that just eliminated a lot of companies that were doing their own implementation of Linux. It was normal at the end of the late 90s to build your own Linux. No one would do that today … I think the comparison is pretty similar to the maturity of our industry.”
However, two of the aforementioned companies — Amazon and Google — are major players in the emerging drone delivery industry, through Prime Air and Wing respectively. It’s not clear whether they would choose to adopt Auterion’s technology, but Sartori isn’t concerned about that.
The company is working with DroneCode and ASTM to develop industry standards around the PX4 ecosystem, allowing larger players like Wing — which started with PX4, according to Sartori — the freedom to branch off and build their own implementation of the open-source code, while smaller players can essentially outsource their flight controllers, detect-and-avoid, autopilot and other systems to Auterion and focus on their core competencies.
If Auterion’s vision of the drone industry’s future comes to pass, Sartori believes the Western drone industry could become much more price-competitive with DJI for enterprise applications rather than cheaper consumer drones.
“The market that we can really disrupt is closer to $5-10,000 and up, where you can build a drone made in the U.S. that rivals the [DJI Matrice] M200 at the enterprise level,” Sartori said. “I think we can compete at that level today, provided that we have the hardware companies that will build such a system. And we’re lining that up, so mid-year you will see a couple of manufacturers bring to market drones that have the same benefit as an M200 and are compatible on pricing too.”
“The cost savings for an enterprise isn’t buying a drone that is $2k versus a better drone that is $10k, but rather getting rid of all the integration steps in between,” Sartori added. “It’s not only the cost of procurement but the lifetime cost of the system.”
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Sabrewing unveiled the prototype of its Rhaegal-A unamnned, heavy-lift VTOL aircraft, as well as a $3.25m R&D contract from the U.S. Air Force.
At the conclusion of the Air Force’s Agility Prime event on revolutionary VTOL aircraft, California-based Sabrewing Aircraft revealed their ‘Rhaegal-A’ prototype, an unmanned heavy-lift cargo aircraft that the company says will be capable of moving heavy payloads almost anywhere in the world — landing where many fixed-wing and VTOL aircraft cannot.
“The aircraft is designed to open new locations and deliver cargo where no fixed-wing or helicopter can go, and it’s also designed to land in locations where there is no pad or any other kind of structure,” said CEO Ed de Reyes, noting that the Rhaegal is also able to operate “where no battery, fuel cell or hydrogen tank can go currently,” an advantage it has over many electric and hydrogen VTOL designs under development.
De Reyes also said his company received a Phase 2 SBIR contract from the Air Force worth $3.25 million.
“Our SBIR contract provides R&D funding for using our navigation system and detect-and-avoid system to provide an aircraft position solution in a GPS-denied environment,” de Reyes said. “We will also test this denied GPS solution both on the test bench and in the air to verify that it works correctly. We will also demonstrate the Rhaegal aircraft’s ability to deliver cargo to remote locations and unimproved areas.”
Using the Safran Ardiden 3 engine to power four electric motors, the hybrid-electric Rhaegal-A will use four tilting ducted fans to reach speeds up to 245 mph, according to de Reyes, flying at altitudes up to 22,000 feet for a range exceeding 1,000 nautical miles.
During the Agility Prime launch, Air Force and other government leaders stressed the importance of electric VTOL capabilities for distributed logistics and sustainment as well as rapid deployment and response efforts. Service acquisition chief Dr. Will Roper told reporters the Air Force will buy ‘at least 30’ eVTOL aircraft.
“These new unmanned platforms can be used to drop needed supplies in remote areas, deploy and evacuate soldiers, and provide logistical spokes to make our military more agile and mobile,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said of the Sabrewing announcement. “It also has many civilian and industry applications such as mass transit, shipping, and even offering safe and secure access to areas where runways aren’t present — like in many parts of Alaska.”
Sabrewing has firm orders for more than 65 aircraft, according to the company, with letters of intent for up to 250 more following type certification, which de Reyes expects to receive from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December 2021 and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in July 2021. Customer deliveries are expected to begin in January 2021, with an ability to manufacture up to 500 aircraft per year due to the Rhaegal’s “unique modular construction,” according to de Reyes.
Rhaegal-A’s first flight tests, which will take place at Edwards Air Force Base, were originally slated to begin on June 1, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be delayed until quarantines are lifted. The aircraft is also a testbed for Sabrewing’s larger Rhaegal-B variant, which will be capable of carrying 5,400 lbs when taking off vertically and up to 10,000 lbs on conventional takeoff.
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Luuk van Dijk, a software development engineer who previously worked for technology giants Google and SpaceX, is the co-founder and CEO of Zurich, Switzerland-based startup Daedalean.
On this episode, we caught up with Luuk van Dijk, co-founder of Zürich, Switzerland-based startup and provider of autonomous flight control technology Daedalean. On Apr. 1, Daedalean and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) jointly published a report entitled, “Concepts of Design Assurance for Neural Networks.”
The report is the result of 10 months of work between EASA and Daedalean. According to EASA, the jointly published report is the result of a 10-month collaborative project between the two organizations with the goal of investigating the challenges and concerns of using Neural Networks (NN) in aviation.
Some of the results of the project will serve as a key enabler towards the certification and approval of machine learning in safety-critical applications onboard aircraft.
During our interview with van Dijk, he explains the differences between artificial intelligence, machine learning and how neural networks is effectively a subset of these concepts. The former SpaceX engineer also discusses some of the near term use cases of neural networks within aviation, including how they have been flight testing the use of one for image recognition, object detection and visual landing systems over the last few years in drones, air taxis and manned aircraft.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode as part of this new series? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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