PARTNER CONTENT – Should you buy a maintenance plan to cover your business aircraft or helicopter? It’s a question operators should ask themselves from time to time. The answer is: it depends.
Fixed-cost maintenance plans are a godsend when something goes wrong with your engines, avionics or critical mechanical and electronic components. These programs can help you avoid expensive surprises, manage your maintenance budget and keep your aircraft in mission-ready condition.
Like similar programs for your house or car, maintenance plans for your aircraft protect you from the unexpected, enable you to proactively predict maintenance costs and spread out the projected cost of repairs over the course of a year.
Self-insurance is another strategy if you’re willing to assume the risk of covering 100 percent of your repair costs on an out-of-pocket basis. Consider this approach only if you know your aircraft very well, keep up with scheduled and preventive maintenance, and have years of maintenance-cost data available for analysis. Then you can do a pretty good job of estimating the annual cost of scheduled and unscheduled events so you can compare projected costs against the fixed cost of a maintenance plan and budget accordingly.
Even if the costs of both options compare favorably, many operators choose to mitigate risk with a maintenance plan, which above all provides peace of mind for owners, operators and directors of maintenance.
What’s important is that you make an informed decision on whether to sign up for a plan and which program to choose. That means doing your homework, starting with determining your needs and risks, and checking out available programs.
Working with our customers, we’ve found that many operators find it difficult to accurately estimate the cost of planned and unplanned events so they can build an adequate maintenance budget. Consider your aircraft’s age, since the needs of older aircraft are significantly different than newer ones. The more you know about your aircraft and the historic cost of maintenance, the better you’ll be able to evaluate the potential savings offered by a plan.
Many plans are available for business aircraft and helicopters. With continuous advancements in aircraft technology, sophistication and reliability, maintenance plan providers are keeping pace by changing programs to meet the needs of today’s operators. For example, Honeywell recently introduced a usage-based element that rewards operators for putting less stress on their propulsion engines.
It’s a good idea to investigate available programs, compare them side-by-side and ask providers for information specific to the aircraft you’re considering enrolling in a maintenance program.
Here are some questions you should ask maintenance plan providers to help you evaluate their specific program:
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to evaluate the available programs and determine the best course of action for your particular operation and aircraft. For more information on maintenance plans and to learn more about Honeywell’s full line of offerings, drop us a note on the accompanying form.
Karen Martinez is sales manager for Honeywell maintenance service plans. Honeywell offers a full range of service plans, covering propulsion engines, avionics, auxiliary power units and mechanical components.
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Check out the July 12 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the top headlines and stories across various segments of the global aerospace industry that you should be aware of for the week ahead.
An x-ray rendering of XB-1, Boom’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft, which is scheduled for rollout in October followed by a first flight in 2021. Photo: Boom Supersonic
Boom Supersonic’s XB-1 subsonic demonstrator aircraft will roll out the company’s Denver, Colorado hangar on October 7, the company said in a July 8 press release.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing recommendations, Boom plans on holding a virtual online unveiling of the XB-1. During the rollout event, Boom’s lead engineers, test pilots and company leadership will discuss the design, flight and handling criteria for XB-1.
The rollout is a key milestone toward its first flight expected to occur in 2021 to demonstrate key technologies, such as advanced carbon fiber composite construction, computer-optimized high-efficiency aerodynamics, and an efficient supersonic propulsion system.
“Our experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic underscore for all of us the fundamental human need for personal connection. Faster travel enables us to experience the world’s people, cultures, and places, and XB-1 is the first step in bringing supersonic back to the world,” said Blake Scholl, Boom founder and CEO. “With XB-1, we’re demonstrating that we are prepared to bring back supersonic.”
Honeywell Aerospace has received an Federal Aviation Administration Technical Standard Order (TSO) for its IntuVue RDR-7000 radar system, which the company first introduce at the 2019 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).
The 3D radar is described by Honeywell as being “fully automated, scanning from zero up to 60,000 feet, and up to 320 nautical miles in front of the aircraft.”
Larger business and passenger jets have benefitted from IntuVue for years, and soon those same capabilities will be available on many more platforms,” said Mike Ingram, vice president, Avionics, Honeywell Aerospace. “Pilots of these smaller aircraft will have the same 3D capabilities, full automation and predictive weather insights to help them make critical decisions to navigate weather ahead of and around the aircraft.”
Bombardier’s Global 5000, Dassault Falcon’s 900C/EX/LX and Cessna’s Citation X are among the aircraft RDR-7000 is currently available on, with initial delivers expected to begin in the third quarter.
Gogo has introduced new software configuration changes to its in-flight connectivity network that will enable pilots and passengers to connect at 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL) in place of the previous 10,000 feet AGL access point.
An additional 15 to 20 minutes of connectivity can be expected on most flights, a benefit to operators of shorter regional flights.
“The additional connectivity time is a significant enhancement and will deliver even more value to customers,” said Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation. “It makes connectivity available to those who believed inflight Wi-Fi wasn’t an option because they fly shorter routes.
Availability at 3,000 feet will begin within a “phased process to enable service through ground-system configuration and remote software updates,” Gogo said in a statement. Approximately 1,300 AVANCE systems flying in business aviation will benefit from this change, as will roughly 650, commercial airline regional jets equipped with Gogo connectivity.
The United Kingdom is set to take a significant equity share in OneWeb in a groundbreaking deal. On Friday, July 3, OneWeb announced the U.K. government through the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will acquire the company by providing $500 million, with Bharti Global Limited providing another $500 million.
The deal is still subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close by the fourth quarter of 2020.
OneWeb said it plans to continue building its communications system to deliver connectivity to remote and rural parts of the world, starting with the Arctic. The company, which has 74 satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 27.
Read more about the investment and space industry reaction in Via Satellite.
The government of New South Wales, Australia, awarded a $700,000 grant AMSL Aero to support development of a four-seat electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
The project, in development for a few years, relies on battery storage but plains to incorporate hydrogen fuel cells when that technology is more mature. Andrew Moore, chief executive of AMSL Aero, describes his goal as to provide low-cost, zero emissions transport to better connect Australian cities such as Sydney and Canberra — a distance of 155 miles.
Government funds will be used to establish a testing facility and conduct test flights in the region of Narromine. The facility will be built in the next six to 12 months.
The FAA awarded $1.6 million to a group of five companies to develop and test a Contingency Management Platform intended to further fault detection and risk mitigation efforts for unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems. The team will test the platform at the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport in collaboration with Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) and Oneida County.
The core health and usage monitoring and fault mitigation software will be provided by Syracuse, NY-based ResilienX, incorporating a TRL-9 cybersecurity module provided by Assured Information Security (AIS), micro-weather services from TruWeather, and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) airspace visualization and display information from Kongsberg Geospatial. Systems integration will be led by Beavercreek, OH-based CAL Analytics.
Jet It is a business aviation operator launched in 2018 that operates a fleet of HondaJet Elite aircraft and has introduced a unique business model to the private travel market.
The company uses days rather than hours to sell shares of aircraft to customers, allowing owners to only pay for the direct operating costs of the aircraft. That equates to $1,600 an hour.
Jet It currently operates a fleet of five HondaJet Elites, with plans to add more throughout the rest of the year.
On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we’re joined by Glenn Gonzales, CEO and co-founder of Jet It.
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.
Check out the 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series on demand by clicking here.
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New York’s LaGuardia Airport is one of several areas where more Wide Area Multilateration system expansion will occur U.S. airspace over the next few years. Photo: LaGuardia Airport
Two initiatives to address critical obsolescence and end of service life issues for Cooperative Surveillance Radar (CSR) systems in the U.S. airspace, the Mode S Beacon Replacement System (MSBRS) and Wide Area Multilateration expansion will be key in serving as a back up to Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) Out serving as the primary surveillance technology for the National Airspace System.
The era of required ADS-B equipage for aircraft flying in U.S. airspace, with some exceptions, began Jan. 1, 2020, with the FAA’s latest reported data showing a total of 141,968 aircraft have been equipped with the mandated surveillance technology. As those newer transponders become the norm, the FAA still has plans to modernize other sources of surveillance as backups.
Recent progress on secondary surveillance upgrades came in the form of the four-year Mode S Beacon Systems under the Mode S Beacon Replacement System (MSBRS) contract issued to Leidos and Thales in January. The agency is using MSBRS and WAM expansion as additional layers of surveillance in U.S. airspace where ADS-B and radar do not have adequate coverage and. Both technologies can also act as a backup source of surveillance when GPS related ADS-B outages occur.
WAM is described by the FAA as a network of small sensors that are deployed in areas where radar installations are problematic. These sensors leverage existing ADS-B ground stations to send, receive and analyze aircraft signals to determine the location of the aircraft and provide separation services for air traffic controllers. The technology has so far been operational in Juneau, Alaska, Charlotte, N.C. and at a number of airports in mountainous regions of Colorado.
The most recent WAM deployment included the installation of eight new WAM stations near Los Angeles International Airport, an FAA representative told Avionics via email. Those sensors are using the nine ADS-B ground stations that were previously established in the area. Operational analysis of the Los Angeles WAM stations was completed in May of last year.
“In the coming years, the FAA is planning on WAM deployments in the New York and Atlanta areas to enhance surveillance performance and resiliency in this airspace. These WAM deployments provide further opportunities to reduce radar frequency congestion in some of the busiest parts of U.S. airspace,” the representative said.
Those deployments will occur alongside the Mode S replacement work that the FAA will continue to oversee. Under a contract issued in January, Leidos and Thales are collaborating on the supply of up to 142 secondary surveillance radars, with Thales supplying the upgraded Mode S system and Leidos taking the lead on engineering life cycle support.
“The Mode S Beacon Replacement System program has completed two major program milestones with Leidos and its subcontractor Thales since the contract award. The Post Award Conference (PAC) in February 2020 was the first meeting to engage both the vendor and the government and provide a clear and mutual understanding of the award. The System Requirements Review (SRR) in March 2020 identified all the requirements of the contract and how they are being appropriately traced throughout the system,” a representative for the FAA told Avionics International in an emailed statement.
There will be two phases for the MSBRS program, with the first phase focusing on replacing secondary radar systems that will not be replaced by other programs, such as WAM expansion.
“The second phase provides an opportunity to address additional CSR sustainment issues and could include any remaining CSR systems not addressed in the first phase. The program may take eight to twelve years to complete all phases depending on the number of systems acquired,” the representative said.
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Under a new agreement, the FAA and Switzerland’s FOCA will work together to test, evaluate and publish on various elements of UAS safety. (FAA/AUVSI)
The Federal Aviation Administration signed an agreement to work with the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) on standards surrounding the safe use and integration of unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace, the agency announced during the 2020 FAA UAS Symposium remotely co-hosted with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
Under the declaration of intent (DOI), the two agencies intend to collaborate on projects related to UAS activities including unmanned traffic management (UTM) concept validation, airworthiness, control and communications, detect and avoid, human factors, low altitude safety, and training.
The agreement names FAA’s UAS Integration Office and FOCA’s Innovation and Digitalization Unit as the primary authorities for the agreement.
“UAS activities are now accepted worldwide as a vital sector of aviation,” said Jay Merkle, executive director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office. “This U.S./Swiss agreement continues the move forward of the safe, efficient, and internationally harmonized integration of these vehicles into the world’s airspace.”
While the agreement doesn’t hold the participating agencies to jointly developing UAS regulation, it is a commitment to joint development of best practices likely to influence future policy activities.
“International cooperation can only bring speed to the development of safe and sensible policy,” commented Mike Pehel, chairman of InterDrone, referencing programs like the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on UAS (JARUS) and Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA). “I’m excited to see the FAA partnering with Swiss FOCA, one of the great forward-thinking bodies on UAS Integration, and believe this can only bring greater attention and scale to the data the Swiss U-Space implementation is producing with its ‘authorize and assess’ philosophy.”
Discussions about unmanned aircraft integration and UTM development during the FAA’s UAS Symposium underlined the importance of standards harmonization across borders. Failure to do so, government and industry participants noted, will reduce the ability for operational learnings to transfer, slow down the development of best practices and — in the long term — impact industry’s ability to innovate and provide services in a cost-effective manner.
“From an operator’s perspective, if there are significantly different means of operations, if there are different methods of compliance and kinds of tools, that complexity can affect the operator’s ability to repeatably execute an operation,” said Reinaldo Negron, head of UTM for Wing. “We see that as another key risk if we don’t have some of the harmonization that’s happening.”
“Without these common standards, we’ll have a patchwork of expectations and requirements that will make it very difficult for businesses globally to operate globally,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president of innovation and commercial business at Bell.
One challenge noted with regards to harmonization efforts is getting enough international engagement in global standards bodies such as ASTM, which has developed standards for drone remote identification, operational risk assessment and more. Limited engagement during the standards formation process can result in uncertain levels of buy-in once the standard is produced, noted FAA’s Merkle.
In particular, the fundamentals of unmanned traffic management systems “really caught on globally thanks to NASA,” Merkle said, but has morphed in some areas of the world and “we’re having a hard time keeping everyone together … a challenge that will remain for a while as we see this mature.”
The results of any collaborative FAA-FOCA testing and analysis connected to the newly-signed agreement is expected to be “jointly owned,” according to the text of the agreement, with the participants to “mutually decide on the terms of first publication.” A working agenda is expected to be established within 60 days.
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Viasat has removed Internet speed limits for operators of business jets equipped with its Ka-band connectivity system, such as the Embraer Praetor 600, whose cockpit is pictured here. Photo: Embraer Executive Jets
Business jet operators flying aircraft equipped with Viasat’s Ka-band satellite connectivity are no longer limited to a maximum number of megabits per second (Mbps) in-flight, as the global communications company has removed all Internet speed limits to enable more efficient use of data intensive passenger and flight crew applications.
Viasat describes the move as an “industry first,” extending the removal of speed caps to its Ka-band coverage area. The company said service plan pricing will remain the same, and a new 200 GB data tier has also been introduced for business aviation.
Unlimited connectivity is now available to business jets equipped with Viasat’s Global Aero Terminal 5510 on the ViaSat-1, ViaSat-2 and European Ka-band satellite service. Their decision to eliminate the Ka-band speed maximums was driven by increased demand by business jet passengers for data intensive applications, such as in-flight video-conferencing and accessing content.
James Person, director of business development and strategy for Viasat’s business aviation division told Avionics International that operators have already seen speeds of up to 40 Mbps after the speed limits were removed.
“This really enables an unlimited number of those large spikes of data to the aircraft,” Person said. “When passengers are trying to stream things like Netflix shows or live sports games, the minute you start requesting that large volume of data to come over, it needs to buffer and build up that data before it hits the aircraft.”
Person said the speed removal has also helped open faster streaming to smaller mid and super mid cabin business jets, who are now able to stream and download large files or video conference for the first time in many cases. More than 1,100 Viasat connectivity terminals have been shipped to the business jet and government aircraft segment of their satellite network, while their fourth quarter and fiscal year 2020 year end report published in May showed 1,390 aircraft on the commercial airline side.
Several new business aircraft models will also have access to the new unlimited speed, after their Ka-band IFC system was was recently approved for Gulfstream G280 aircraft and received type certification for Embraer Praetor 600 aircraft at the 2019 annual National Business Aviation Association convention and exhibition. Viasat’s dual-band business aviation connectivity system also recently received certification for the Bombardier Global 5000/6000/GEX family.
“Our average users are historically below about 50 gigabytes (GB) per month, but with more volume available people will use it more, so we wanted to make sure we had plans large enough for them. Most of our subscribers are not going to need a 100 GB or 200 GB plan, but we do have corporate flyers and fractional operators who do fly a lot of hours per month and want those plans,” Person said.
Craig Foster, a London-based senior research consultant for Valour Consultancy, said that business aviation operators ever increasing data requirements are driving the need for bigger data allowances and “higher Maximum Information Rates (MIR) and Committed Information Rates (CIR).”
“As we emerge from COVID-19, these requirements will go up another notch with corporations transporting more of their employees through so-called health corridors and passengers having become more accustomed to using bandwidth-intensive applications like video-telephony and subscription-based streaming services during lockdown,” Foster said in a July 8 press release.
Removal of the speed limits by Viasat also comes as business aviation air traffic starts to build back up. Recently light tracking and aviation digital data service provider FlightAware reported its first day since the decline of traffic due to COVID-19 were business jet flights surpassed 2019 numbers, on June 20 when flights were 2.5 percent higher than they were last year.
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Robert Hammett, CEO of OneSky Systems, discussed various applications of the company’s modeling and analysis tools for unmanned traffic management (UTM) and urban air mobility (UAM).
As interested parties across the drone and air taxi space eagerly await the widespread implementation of unmanned traffic management (UTM) and related enabling technologies such as remote ID, Robert Hammett, CEO of OneSky Systems, joined Avionics International and other news outlets for a wide-ranging discussion.
OneSky, a company spun off from modeling and analysis software giant Analytical Graphics Inc., took part in many of NASA’s UTM development projects, is an airspace provider participant in NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign, and is a provider of Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) services for drone operations in restricted airspace.
In 2014, AGI began exploring UTM as a new area of application for its core dynamic modeling and analysis products, which are used by a number of leading aerospace and defense companies for ground, sea, air and space applications.
“At that point, we recognized there was an opportunity for our technology, we drew some parallels for some things we were doing in the space domain which are very aligned with UTM, and realized there was an opportunity for us to build out this digital infrastructure primarily focused on the beyond visual line of sight operations (BVLOS),” Hammett told reporters during a conversation hosted by the Vertical Flight Society. “Instead of starting with an idea and an app, we started with 7 million lines of aerospace-grade code that’s been verified and validated and continues to get better every day.”
An image from OneSky’s participation in NASA’s TCL-4 UTM campaign. (Robert Hammett/OneSky Systems)
Hammett, who led the business unit within AGI that became OneSky when the company spun off in 2015, said the recognition of an opportunity was further confirmed with the more recent push for air taxis and urban air mobility.
In addition to the airspace and operation management services OneSky offers alongside many other UAS service suppliers — submitting flight plans, flight monitoring, customizable interfaces, producing analytics — Hammett said OneSky’s airspace modeling and analysis will prove useful to cities, companies and government agencies as they decide how to proceed with operations.
“As a result of this modeling, simulating and analysis that we do, we then get this very rich set of deliverables that can be taken advantage of to do any number of things, from interfacing internally with organizations, interfacing with customers, interfacing with regulators, getting waivers and safety approvals, building up community adoption,” Hammett said.
“What we’re finding is that cities have the need to take that conceptual ConOps 1.0 and figure out how to wire that to their city,” he said, referring to the FAA’s recently-released UAM ConOps V1.0. “‘What is my real infrastructure, and where are my opportunities to operate and take advantage of these corridors? Where do I have the demand to move people within the city?’ Our ability to quickly and easily model that … is really the first step, because you’ve got to figure that out.”
Per the FAA’s ConOps, the regulator plans to work with cities and industry to determine the placement of corridors designed for UAM operations, within which air traffic controllers will not perform tactical separation and stakeholders will use community-based rulemaking to safely increase the tempo of operations as capabilities improve. OneSky’s products are able to model cellular coverage, noise, and risk — other key elements in determining where cities may want to place these corridors.
In addition to its participation in U.S.-based test programs, OneSky has partnered with companies and air navigation service providers in Switzerland, Singapore, Australia and many other countries to participate in pilot projects and develop global standards.
“We’re hoping we can go as fast as we can, because the investment to participate in [NASA UTM/AAM and similar projects] are not insignificant and we really need to show that there are viable business models out here, whether on the UTM side or the UAM side, so that’s another challenge that our segment of the industry faces,” Hammett said.
OneSky is also a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote ID cohort, the group of companies selected to shape and build out the core technology that will power that system and have significant utility for counter-UAS operations, according to Hammett.
“We’ve got to bring the authorized operators in, pull them out of the picture, see what’s left in the data and then figure out how we isolate and assess the risk of those operations,” Hammett said.
Remote ID, BVLOS and operations over people are three key areas where Hammett said regulation needs to progress to enable UTM and expanded unmanned operations. The FAA is planning to release a final rulemaking for drone remote ID by the end of this year.
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VistaJet has added the Tempus IC2 telemedicine technology to its global fleet of 116 aircraft. Photo: VIstaJet
International private jet charter operator VistaJet has added in-flight telemedicine technology, RDT’s Tempus IC2, to their global fleet of aircraft as the business aviation industry continues to see demand for flights scale up following the reduction of air travel restrictions in several regions.
Tempus IC2 is a tablet device developed by RDT to give non-medical experts the ability to monitor vital passenger signs and communicate with a network doctors and medical experts on the ground that are available 24/7. VistaJet has become the first charter operator to add the IC2 to its fleet, although the technology has been adopted and used by various airlines for several years including Etihad Airways and Icelandair, among others.
VistaJet Chairman Thomas Flohr said he believes “all operators with a global program should have this technology onboard,” in a press release confirming the Tempus IC2 fleet equipage.
“VistaJet crew now have even more resources to give them and passengers complete peace of mind with every flight. The information from the monitor is seamlessly and confidentially shared with the ground-based medical experts — it is the next best thing to having a doctor by your side,” Flohr said.
According to the company’s website, Tempus is capable of transmitting voice and data communications using satellite connectivity. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Wi-Fi interfaces are also embedded within Tempus that can enable in-flight communications with Medlink, which is MedAire’s 24/7 medical advisory service.
“The parameters available when taking a Tempus call are essentially the same as those one would have in most emergency rooms. Tempus IC2 is invaluable when remotely managing a medical situation, because it gives MedAire’s MedLink doctors the clinical-quality data needed to make a better diagnostic impression,” Dr Paulo M. Alves, global medical director for MedAire, said in a statement.
Using Tempus, VistaJet flight crews will be able to connect to MedLink through “VistaJet’s secure onboard connection,” the company said. That onboard connection was recently upgraded to Luxstream, a business jet in-flight connectivity service enabled by Collins Aerospace in partnership with SES.
While VistaJet did not describe the addition of Tempus to its aircraft cabins as directly associated with COVID-19 related travel concerns, it is one of the latest steps the company has taken in efforts to restore passenger confidence in air travel.
Flight crews are now required to be evaluated twice a day for COVID-19 signs or symptoms, and passengers traveling to or from high risk locations are required to complete a new set of additional travel documents and a self-declaration that is submitted as a legal verification of information to the port of arrival authority at their destination. If a passenger has been determined to have had COVID-19 while onboard one of VistaJet’s aircraft, it is removed from service, throughly cleaned and evaluated prior to flying again.
During his appearance on the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast in March, as COVID-19 travel restrictions were first being implemented, VistaJet Chief Commercial Officer Ian Moore described some of the challenges of flying internationally amid new travel restriction and health concerns.
“Going from A to B these days is a lot more complicated, it’s not just getting the passenger there, it’s getting the crew there, and getting the crew into periods of rest while not getting stuck in quarantine,” Moore said. “Making sure the aircraft can get out again, making sure you can have a fuel stop if necessary in a location where all three parts, the crew, aircraft and client can touch on the ground. The complexity of being able to operate requires a company with experience that can navigate those areas, otherwise aircraft, crews or clients can find themselves in areas they cannot get out of.”
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ZeroAvia’s modified Piper Mirage six-seater turboprop is the first commercial-scale battery electric powered aircraft to complete a successful flight test. Photo: ZeroAvia
ZeroAvia recently completed the first phase of test flights for the U.K.’s first ever electric-powered commercial-scale aircraft, as the Silicon Valley startup works toward its initial goal for the development of a certifiable zero emissions hydrogen-electric turboprop by 2023.
The series of 10+ test flights, completed beginning June 23 at Cranfield University’s airport, used a Piper Malibu Mirage turboprop modified with a 300-kilowatt (kW) battery electric power system along with a customized cockpit display and computer. Each flight is part of Project HyFlyer, a U.K. government-industry funded program launched last year to demonstrate how medium range small passenger aircraft can be decarbonized.
ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov told Avionics International that the goal with the first flight was to match the performance of the aircraft’s stock engine, a six cylinder Lycoming 540-AE2A with a 350 horsepower rating – or the equivalence of 260 kW.
“Cranfield is a sea level airport, and we were at 1,000 feet [mean sea level] MSL, in a pattern, so these are mostly sea level numbers. We recorded the most economic cruise from the flight occurring at 2,000-RPM prop speed, 90 kts indicated and that was with 75 kW of consumption. That works out to about 800 or so watt hours per nautical mile, which is pretty good, given that it’s comparable with what my Tesla Model S does at that speed,” Miftakhov said.
Over the course of two weeks, the ZeroAvia team completed multiple test flights, while capturing data about the temperatures, power flows and torque characteristics of the aircraft at takeoff, cruise and landing. Miftakhov said that the biggest overall challenges in preparing for and operating the flights were the thermal management of the electric motors, inverters and heat exchangers.
On the traditional jet fuel powered set up for their Piper Mirage, incoming air usually flows into the air box off the prop through two air inlets on the nose of the aircraft. It then flows around the cylinders and gets diverted into one of two turbocharger intercoolers to help decrease the temperature of the air entering the intake manifold. Airflow then continues down through the cowling and flows out through exhaust points at the bottom left and right sides of the aircraft.
Under the battery-powered system, the intercoolers were replaced with radiators that acted as heat exchangers for the electric motors and power inverters. An ideal location for the radiators would have been the frontal portion of the air box, which was not available because that space was needed for thermally managing airflow around the ZeroAvia fuel cell system design.
The pilot performing the flight test was using a fully electronically managed power system that provides readouts indicating whether the aircraft is approaching a condition that exceeds the recommended operating parameters. Through a fly-by-wire style system, an electronic interface module takes the mechanical displacement of pilot inputs on the throttle and converts that into an electronic signal for the customized battery electric navigation computer.
“As the computer is deciding what to do with the pilot inputs, it is checking the temperature of the motors and inverters as well as the remaining voltage supply level of the battery,” Mifthakov said. “If the computer detects an exceedance on any of those parameters, it then makes a decision on what to do with that throttle input, and how to de-rate it for example based on what’s available. That will then generate associated messages on the pilot’s display.”
ZeroAvia and its partners for Project HyFlyer are now preparing for the next round of flight-testing using the hydrogen electric powertrain that they ultimately want to use for zero emissions passenger carrying aircraft. In that system, the power inverters and electric motors still drive the propeller, however the electricity is provided by the hydrogen fuel cell system in place of the battery.
“Instead of getting electricity from the battery we get it from the hydrogen fuel cell system, which takes hydrogen from the tanks, combines it with oxygen from the air, and produces electricity,” Mifthakhov said, adding that the biggest cost savings for their preference of hydrogen to battery power is the limited lifespan of batteries compared to the life of the aircraft.
Additionally, the energy density of the hydrogen electric system is “five times better than battery power,” as the weight of the hydrogen fuel cell system is significantly lower, according to Mifthakov.
“A lot of economic comparisons of electrified power trains just use the energy cost and do not talk about the additional operating costs that come in with the use of the battery. On aircraft that use jet fuel, the fuel tanks will last for the duration of the aircraft. Similarly with a hydrogen fuel cell system, your tanks last as long as the aircraft. But for batteries, cycling adds a significant cost element, because a typical high-energy battery can only go for 1,000 to 2,000 cycles. And if you try to operate that for a regional scheduled flight service, where you could have up to eight flights a day or more, it’s much more expensive,” he said.
ZeroAvia is planning its first test flight using their hydrogen electric system within the next several weeks. Project HyFlyer’s ultimate goal is a 300-nautical mile flight in the hydrogen-powered Mirage taking off from the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
While the 2023 goal is a 19-passenger Twin Otter capable of 500-mile regional flights, their next goal will target larger regional turboprops like Bombardier’s Dash-8 or the ATR 500 series by the end of the decade. Mifthakov said the team believes it can achieving operating costs that are half of what are required for a jet fuel powered Twin Otter.
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Thales has appointed a new executive vice president for its avionics division, starting October 1, 2020, pictured here is one of the company’s latest avionics cockpit configurations, FlytX. Photo: Thales Aerospace
Thales has named Yannick Assouad as its new executive vice president of avionics, taking over for Gil Michielin, who announced his retirement from the Toulouse-based avionics maker.
Assouad will begin her new position Oct. 1, 2020, reporting to Thales CEO Patrice Caine. She joins Thales after serving as the CEO of Latécoère, a Toulouse-based supplier of aerostructures and interconnection systems to Thales and other major aerospace and industry manufacturers and airlines. Her other previous stints include serving as the head of the cabin systems division for Zodiac Aerospace.
Announcement of the leadership transition comes as Thales and other aerospace manufacturers continue to respond to the reduction in air travel by passengers and subsequently aircraft demand by airlines. The French government in June announced a 15 billion euro COVID-19 pandemic economic aid package for its aerospace industry, including up to €500 million in loans directly to Airbus, Thales and Safran, according to a New York Times article covering the aid package.
“I thank Patrice Caine for his confidence and I am very happy to be coming back to Thales, where I began my career,” Assouad said in a statement. “With the aerospace sector particularly hard hit by the global health crisis, I will apply all my experience and energy to serve the Avionics teams and their customers so that we can clear this hurdle together and write a new chapter in our return to growth.”
In an Apr. 7 press release, Thales confirmed its expectation for the COVID-19 pandemic to have “the greatest impact” on its commercial aerospace business segment, which represents about 12 percent of the overall company and generated sales of approximately €2.15 billion in 2019. The company also officially withdrew its financial outlook for 2020, which its plans to update “as soon as it is able to do so,” Thales said.
The largest avionics engineering effort that Assouad will oversee in her new position is the development of PureFlyt, the new generation connected flight management system that Avionics was introduced to during a tour of the Thales avionics facility in November. Thales is also developing an artificial intelligence virtual pilot assistant for future business jet cockpits.
“I welcome Yannick Assouad to Thales. Her solid experience will be a major asset in meeting the challenges facing the aerospace sector,” Caine said in a statement. “I also thank Gil Michielin most sincerely for his engagement over the last 38 years and his major contribution to the Group’s success in aeronautics.”
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