On this episode, we’re joined by Thomas Rehrberg, head of airports and airlines business for Nokia Enterprise.
Rehrberg provides an overview of how 5G works and what its enabling elements within the aviation industry will be, with a focus on airports. The airports division of Nokia Enterprise has already deployed a 5G private wireless network at Brussels Airport in partnership with Belgian mobile operator Citymesh.
Lufthansa Technik has used the same technology to enable virtual aircraft hangar maintenance trainings as well.
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 recently announced agenda for the 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats to view the virtual event, June 22-26, 2020.
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A new set of data acquisition, flight data monitoring recording
technology developed by Appareo is designed to bring some of the post-flight data
transmission and analytics capabilities that airlines have been adopting in
recent years to smaller general aviation aircraft.
The North Dakota avionics manufacturer unveiled a lineup of
new computing hardware and software updates over the last month designed to
make access and analysis of flight data easier among business and general
aviation fleet operators. Appareo’s most recent release include their June 3
unveiling of Conexus, a new set of aircraft communications units (ACUs)
designed to act as data acquisition systems for flight data monitoring.
Through Ethernet, ARINC 429 or RS-422, Conexus can acquire
data while in-flight so that it can be retrieved and analyzed post-flight.
“The Conexus ACU-200 has an embedded cellular modem that is
connected to an antenna. That antenna can either be mounted to the ACU-200
itself or to the fuselage, depending on the aircraft. The product is
telematically enabled solely to provide offload of data from the ACU-200 after
the aircraft has landed, it’s not intended to operate the cellular function in
flight,” Appareo CEO David Batcheller told Avionics.
Each ACU-200 consists of dual-core ARM cortex A9 processors,
an LTE cellular radio that relies on 3G/2G as a fallback and a short-range 433
MHz radio. Since the technology provides access to the data after a flight is
complete and features embedded cellular connectivity – there is no additional
investment in any type of satcom or air to ground connectivity required to
Another capability featured on Conexus is its ability to
transfer information without the removal of an SD card from a flight data
recorder. Appareo has also demonstrated its ability to be integrated into the
cockpit voice and image recorder technology that the company also has also
developed for light jets.
Prior to unveiling the Conexus ACU-200, on Apr. 29, Appareo
announced a new addition to its line of flight
data recording modules, the Recoverable Data Module, model 300 (RDM-300).
Batcheller describes RDM-300 as being adaptable to any type
of aircraft, although the company is targeting the general aviation segment
with the RDM-300, which is designed to automatically accommodate an aircraft’s
bus speed and adjust its configuration to desired data recording preferences.
“The RDM-300 is typically installed by aircraft
manufacturers on either type certificate or supplemental type certificates obtained
in the factory. The product connects to data sources from avionics, or other
sources such data output from a FADEC and stores that data to memory,
overwriting old data in a FIFO fashion. The product can also be installed by
operators looking to improve the recoverability of data from incidents or
accidents, finding an installation location in their aircraft where the unit
can be stored and reasonably wired into data output from avionics,” Batcheller
Smaller general aviation aircraft are not required by civil aviation regulatory agencies in the U.S. or internationally to feature the type of flight data recorders mandated on larger commercial airliners. The National Transportation Safety Board, within its 2019-2020 “Most Wanted List,” included a recommendation for the FAA to start requiring flight data monitoring on smaller U.S.-registered aircraft in an effort to improve safety.
In March, the FAA published a response to the recommendation
noting that it is not considering proposal of such regulations.
“The FAA is not considering rulemaking at this time for
these recommendations. The FAA will examine possible ways of polling operators
through our aviation safety inspectors to identify voluntary flight data
monitoring (FDM) system equipage rates,” the agency said.
RDM-300 is capable of recording more than 500 flight parameters per second within its solid-state memory and weighs less than two pounds. Airframe manufacturers can also configure the module to collect cockpit voice recorder or image data as well.
On the software side of flight data monitoring, Appareo also introduced a major architectural upgrade to EnVision, the web-based application it provides to operators for access to past and current flight data and generation of detailed trend monitoring reports. In a May 18 press release, the company describes how the EnVision system previously only accepted flight data captured by the Apparel Vision 1000 cockpit recorder.
Under the update, the application can now accept flight data
from other devices provided by other companies. The technology analyzes data
uploaded to Appareo servers for analysis after being transferred from an
aircraft to a local computer using an SD card. That transmission can happen
instantaneously or it can be scheduled for a different time of day, based on
the user’s preferences.
“The scheduling feature was developed for our customers who
have operations in remote locations with limited internet bandwidth,”
Batcheller said. “They appreciate the ability to schedule their data file
transmission to take place during periods of low network activity.”
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A team of industry leading avionics embedded systems suppliers has demonstrated the use of a multi-touch helicopter display. Photo: Presagis
A Wind River, Core Avionics & Industrial Inc. (Core AVI), Presagis, and Real Time Innovations (RTI) team have demonstrated a safety-critical, multi-touch helicopter display that allows for the incorporation of new touchscreen gestures.
Last year, the team developed the helicopter display demonstration build, and the system has customers, though they “cannot be publicly referenced yet,” Jessica Miller, a representative for Wind River wrote Avionics International in an email.
The demonstration system, based on open architectures and a multi-core hardware platform showcases state-of-the-art touch screen capabilities for a helicopter display system using a DO-178C DAL A avionics software
certification solution stack based on the FACE [Future Airborne Capability Environment] open standard, according to Wind River.
“This open architecture approach enables interoperability and reduces integration effort and program through-life costs by avoiding design lock-in,” Wind River said. “The Presagis VAPS XT-178 HMI design suite was used to develop the interactive helicopter display application and perform code generation for VxWorks and CoreAVI VkCore® SC1 safety-critical graphics. The safety-critical display application runs in a VxWorks guest OS in a partition on [the Wind River] Helix Platform, and this processes video source and multi-touch inputs.”
A pioneer in the development of helicopter touch screens was the U.K. Royal Navy’s Merlin – a variant of the Leonardo EH101 helicopter. In 2006, Lockheed Martin received a contract for the Merlin capability sustainability plus (CSP) upgrade program, which included touchscreen flat-panel flight displays.
“Since the early usage of touchscreens and VAPS XT in the Merlin helicopter, the hardware and software support available has improved significantly,” Matt Jackson, Presagis’ technical product manager for embedded graphics, wrote Avionics in an email. “Originally touch screens available for use in airborne situations were limited to single touch inputs and often slow or unresponsive due to the technology used. Infrared touch screens began the improvement of responsiveness and ability for screen reaction times. These displays could often support more than a single touch input but struggled to do the common types of touch input actions people are used to with smart phones (pinch, rotate etc.) due to the problems with fingers close together not able to be discerned.”
VAPS XT is able to handle gesture recognition algorithms, desktop editors and automatic code generation support to allow deployment of touch gestures on embedded platforms and in the desktop lab environments. As a result, avionics developers have been able to shift away from writing low level code to focusing on improving the human factors and usability of touch input, according to Presagis.
“This has meant that new uses of touch displays in cockpits are appearing as well as the traditional front of cockpit displays,” according to Jackson. “The use of physical switches and buttons in control panels are being replaced as touch has been shown to work in many of these cases. This aids with costs and support and rapid development of new functionality when added to a cockpit.”
The move to large area displays (LADs) has also hastened the move to touch and away from traditional cursor, keyboard and bezel hard keys, as the latter approaches are more difficult in the LAD environment.
LADs “are often used to show content from multiple data sources and controlling these and presenting data efficiently is something VAPS XT tools have been designed to support,” Jackson wrote. “These large area displays have many benefits when looking at how more information can be presented to a pilot or co-pilot but with the limited cockpit space. By removing bezels around multiple existing screens and replacing with single or multiple large screens, more information can be presented. As we move forward, other user input methods as well as touch will evolve and start to be used, but currently touch has proven to be very effective and reliable for this.”
Wind River, CoreAVI, and Presagis have also collaborated on other helicopter display projects, including the Crew Mission Station (CMS) for the U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. CMS follows the FACE technical standard to allow the portability of software across military platforms.
Unlike the helicopter display demonstration build, CMS is a full-up helicopter display system, Wind River said.
Early last year, the 82nd Airborne Division conducted a successful limited user evaluation (LUE) of CMS by 44 crew chiefs of five UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to the Army.
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Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies advanced to the third phase of the Air Force’s Agility Prime program. (Beta Technologies)
Air Force leaders working to support the development of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft in the United States acknowledge that this new segment of aerospace will require a robust supply chain to rapidly develop prototypes and achieve expected production rates.
Officials from Agility Prime, the service’s effort to procure eVTOL aircraft and ensure their commercial success, discussed supply chain challenges and the government’s role in creating solutions during a webinar on June 3.
The main goal of the effort is to work with aircraft manufacturers directly to test and evaluate eVTOLs, providing flight hours and data to the Federal Aviation Administration to speed up the commercial certification process.
Agility Prime recently announced two eVTOL manufacturers — Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies — had advanced to the third phase of its “air race to certification,” which will enable the companies to apply for access to Air Force assets and expertise, moving closer to achieving military airworthiness and potentially a procurement contract.
But looking ahead to a world where thousands of eVTOL aircraft are flown in skies above cities by commercial and military, NASA and the Air Force are considering taking action to support the rapid creation of a tiered supply chain system like what exists today in aerospace.
Parimal Kopardekar, director of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Institute (NARI) and a key creator of unmanned traffic management concepts, said he is working on a project to assess the industrial capacity of the United States to fulfill expected production needs.
“We are now in the requirements analysis phase for an electronic exchange platform … [that] would reduce friction to interact with would-be suppliers, understand who has a production certificate and who does not, and allow new suppliers to join in an authenticated fashion so anyone who is one that platform has some kind of a quality benchmark,” Kopardekar said.
Such a system would be prototyped by NASA and then handed off to industry for an associated or other private player to manage, Kopardekar added.
Dana Jensen, senior industrial policy analyst with the Air Force’s Office of Commercial and Economic Analysis, shared a crowd-sourced slide with about 80 companies that had identified themselves as current or planned members of the eVTOL supply chain, spanning propulsion systems, aerostructures, energy storage, avionics, sensors and more.
The current supply chain for electric VTOL aircraft, according to the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
“There are industries that produce aerostructures and actuators, but to some degree they’re a little too burly for these applications, so they need to be scaled down,” Jensen said. “There are automotive solutions for energy solutions, but they’re not exactly optimized for weight the way they should be for eVTOL. The fact that these vehicles live in this liminal space between helicopter and airplane and automobile makes it tough to build out a supply chain.”
Jensen’s team is closely tracking fundraising activities of those 80 self-identified member companies of the eVTOL supply chain, concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. About half are private firms that have raised capital in the past 12-18 months.
“If we want the supply chain as it exists now to get through the COVID crisis, we need to keep a very close eye on firms that may need to raise money soon,” Jensen said. “As far as we know, liquidity in the private equity sector has been maintained, but venture money is starting to pull back, circling the wagons around its existing portfolio as opposed to reaching out to new firms. We’re keeping a close eye on the capital markets because these guys need enough runway to get them through the crisis.”
Jensen and other Air Force officials mentioned there may be funding available to assist eVTOL suppliers through Agility Prime or Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts, though the program is focused on aircraft manufacturers at this point due to limited bandwidth.
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It took two attempts, but SpaceX has made history as the first privately owned company ever to launch human beings into space. On Saturday afternoon at approximately 3:22 p.m. EST, SpaceX sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule that was mounted on a Falcon 9 rocket and launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX also successfully landed the Falcon 9’s first stage engine approximately nine minutes after launch on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.
The mission, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, represents the first time in nearly a decade that U.S. astronauts have launched from U.S. soil. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA has been paying Russia for seats on Soyuz rockets in order to send astronauts to the ISS. The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but delayed due to inclement weather, as a tornado and storm warning was issued around 2:00 p.m. EST and storm cells lingered.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley docked with the ISS on Sunday morning. They will spend one to four months on the station before returning to Earth.
SpaceX’s long and winding road to successful crewed spaceflight hasn’t been easy, though it has always been considered the company’s first and most important milestone. SpaceX Founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk confirmed as much during an interview with Via Satellite in 2009. He said that the Falcon 9 was designed from the start to carry people.
“My long-term objective is to make us a true space civilization and to make at least some progress in helping to extend life beyond Earth,” Musk said during the interview. “Along the way, the necessary thing that needs to be done is to provide launching at a much lower cost and make it much more reliable, but we have to earn our way in that direction.”
Musk returned for a follow-up interview 11 years later at the SATELLITE 2020 event this past March. During the interview, Musk said he was confident in the the Falcon 9’s ability to fulfill its manned-mission destiny and already knee-deep in work to realize the company’s next dream goal: sending humans to Mars on its new stainless steel Starship rocket — preferably during Musk’s lifetime.
“It is great that we are about to launch people to orbit. It has been a long time — too long,” said Musk. “The rate of progress on the Mars mission needs to accelerate dramatically. I hope I am not dead when resettling on Mars happens. But, if we don’t improve our rate of progress, I will be. Unless we improve our rate of innovation, we won’t be able to have a base on the moon or a city on Mars.”
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and almost immediately faced derision for attempting to change an industry steeped in legacy. It took four years for Musk to roll out SpaceX’s first Falcon 1 rocket to the launch pad and another two years before it finally achieved success. The company sent its first satellite RazakSAT — a Malaysian Earth Observation (EO) satellite — into space one year later in July 2009. RazakSAT was the only satellite ever to be launched on the Falcon 1. The first successful Falcon 9 launch would occur the following year in 2010. The Falcon 9 would also go on to become the first reusable rocket in history. Other than Starship, the SpaceX fleet also includes the Falcon Heavy, which enjoyed a rock concert-like maiden launch in 2018 that sent an all-electric vehicle from one of Musk’s other ventures, Tesla, into orbit.
SpaceX is supported by Musk and fellow investors, but ultimately enabled by NASA, its longest and must supportive partner. This collaboration has been widely recognized as critical not only for U.S. space interests, but also for U.S. industry and innovation.
“The use of a public-private partnership between NASA and Space-X for today’s Demo-2 launch allows America to deploy start-up style technology – from automation to the use of virtual reality in training for this mission – while offering more independence and a routine foothold in space for the United States,” said Meg King, director of the Science and Technology Innovation Program at The Wilson Center, a D.C. think tank. “It will certainly boost interest by other nations to adopt similar models and raises the ante for more investments and missions beyond the ISS.”
While continuing its mission to explore space, SpaceX will continue with plans to deploy thousands of Low-Earth Orbit satellites as part of its Starlink constellation. Musk said the constellation will bring broadband connectivity to world populations that live in remote and unserved regions around the world. With OneWeb‘s recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy, SES‘s O3b and Iridium‘s constellations largely dedicated to mobile enterprise and government customers, and dozens of satellites already launched, Starlink maintains a comfortable position among leading LEO constellation contenders.
This article was originally published in Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics. It has been edited.
A significant decline in Embraer commercial aircraft deliveries helped drive a 20 percent decline in the company’s first quarter net revenues, compared to last year, but the silver lining was relatively steady performance in the executive jet and defense markets, company officials said on June 1.
A 40-day halt on commercial aviation sales in January to satisfy a carve out of Embraer’s commercial aviation business for the now-cancelled joint venture with Boeing also helped move first quarter aviation sales lower than last year, Embraer said.
Embraer reported $634 million in net revenues for the first quarter of this year, compared to $823 million last year. Commercial aviation revenues halved from $281 last year to $140 million, while defense revenues fell from $179 million last year to $149 million this year, and business jet revenues grew from $117 million last year to $130 million this year.
“With respect to the COVID-19 impact, we are seeing the biggest impact in the commercial aviation business while executive jets so far remained fairly resilient, as well as defense and security,” Antonio Carlos Garcia, Embraer’s chief financial officer told analysts during a June 1 earnings call. “We continue to discuss deferrals with our commercial customers and up to now we haven’t received any cancellation requests. The good news is that key markets for commercial aviation in Europe and United States are already resuming operations and in many cases, using smaller regional jets that should lead the aviation recovery.”
Embraer delivered nine business jets – five light jets, three Praetor 600 and one Praetor 500 – during the first quarter of 2020, and Embraer’s executive jet factory in Melbourne, Florida has continued building jets, finishing assembly and delivering to customers, as the state classified aerospace activity as essential operations. In addition, the company said that it offered its business jets and demonstrators for transport of critical patients in need of medical care during the pandemic.
The company’s business jet customers largely reconfirmed their orders for the year with few deferrals, and the Phenom 300E received “triple certification” from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil (ANAC), Garcia said.
During the June 1 earnings call, Embraer CEO Francisco Gomes Neto said that Embraer is looking for new partners, possibly for the China and India markets, in the wake of an April decision by Boeing to back out of a $4.2 billion joint venture with Embraer for the development of commercial aircraft and sales of the Embraer-developed C-390 multi-mission medium cargo and transport plane.
Embraer is still undergoing arbitration with Boeing over the joint venture cancellation.
Under terms of the agreement, Boeing would have owned an 80 percent stake in the joint venture, which would have given the U.S. aerospace giant the opportunity to market and sell smaller, regional planes that typically seat fewer than 150 passengers.
On the defense side, Embraer has six KC-390 cargo planes in production for the Brazilian Air Force and Portugal, and Brazil has been using two of the aircraft to move supplies, medical equipment and ambulances within Brazil to combat COVID-19.
Embraer recently began production of the two-seat F version of the Gripen fighter, a co-development program between Saab and Embraer.
The United States Air Force Special Operations Command has also signed a contract for two additional Embraer Super Tucanos, the company said.
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5G is to be an important part of urban air mobility, including drone delivery, according to Wind River. Pictured is the first Dutch drone delivery to a ship, the Pioneering Spirit crane ship, on May 22 off the Port of Rotterdam. The Dutch Delta Drone carried a small part – a network switch – to the ship. Photo: Port of Rotterdam Authority.
The deployment of 5G networks to enable rapid, high-bandwidth communications will be important for urban air mobility and defense, according to a new Wind River report, Solving 5G’s Biggest Challenges for Communications Service Providers.
The aerospace and defense (A&D) sector “is largely interested in 5G for its relevance to Urban Air Mobility as well as the potential to maintain global technology leadership and ensure defense communications are optimized and secure,” according to the report. The new Wind River report finds that 5G offers significant promise and challenges for communication services providers.
“The networks must be dense and complex and can potentially impose high operating and maintenance costs on carriers,” the report said. “Many, if not most, applications on 5G will require extremely low or deterministic latency. And of course, security is a factor to contend with as well.”
Capabilities that can overcome the security risks, “given the distributed and sometimes remote nature of 5G far edge nodes,” include Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to secure edge site hardware via cryptographic keys; Quick Assist Technology (QAT) with key protection; secure, Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) boot; and zero touch updates, according to Wind River.
The deployment of 5G will be challenging, as the networks are dense and complex and come with potentially high operations and maintenance costs.
Wind River said that 5G will likely affect the design and architecture of the Radio Access Network (RAN), a collection of edge-located functions that connect a mobile device to the communication service provider’s core network.
To enable the low latency and high network loads of 5G, Wind River is offering a a new, cloud-based Virtual RAN (vRAN) approach under the the Wind River Cloud Platform. For the high density network requirements, Wind River is pursuing a Massive Multiple In Multiple Out (Massive MIMO) approach to wireless networking that maximizes data transfer through simultaneous sending and receiving and allows for the use of multiple antennas in data transmission and greater speed per antenna.
A Wind River survey published in April of 400 top executives in the United States and China found that a significant percentage are ramping up their 5G investments due to the effects of COVID-19. In the United States, 37 percent of industry 5G projects, including those in aerospace, have accelerated because of COVID-19, while, in China, 63 percent of such projects have moved up, the survey said.
5G is likely to be an important future technology for the military, as 5G is to enable high-bandwidth, real-time, densely-connected networks that will be central to leap-ahead defense command, control, and communications.
To that end, the Pentagon’s technology office has partnered with the Air Force Warfare Center to build a mobile 5G cellular network at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that will host software prototype tests starting next January, according to Avionics’ sister publication, Defense Daily.
The network is to feature relocatable cell towers that can be set up and taken down in less than an hour, as officials look to test possibilities for mobile operations centers and using 5G on the move.
The Pentagon fiscal year 2021 budget requested $449 million in research and development for 5G, $249 million more than provided by Congress last year.
On the commercial side, Gogo is developing new antennas and modems designed to enable the world’s first in-flight connectivity 5G air-to-ground (ATG) network by next year. Gogo has said that it is teaming with Cisco, Airspace, and First RF in Gogo’s development of its 5G system and network.
While Gogo furloughed 600 employees this month because of COVID-19’s impact on aviation, the company also said that the lay-offs would not affect the timeline of 5G. In a May 11 earnings call with investors, Barry Rowan, the chief financial officer for Gogo, said that the company is spending about $100 million for 5G development.
“Our spending for this [5G] program peaks at just under $50 million during 2021,” he said. “We could delay our Gogo 5G spending if required to meet our financial objectives. So what is the outcome of these detailed planning exercises? Even under the worst-case scenario, we meet our key financial objectives of maintaining the minimum liquidity we need to run the company and making our interest payments.”
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A thirty minute flight by an all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan, by MagniX and AeroTEC, brings electric aviation one step closer to primetime. Photo: MagniX
Though SpaceX was forced to scrub its historic launch this past Wednesday — the first transport of humans to space from American soil since 2011 — the sky was all-clear for Redmond, Washington-based MagniX’s first flight of the largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.
Working with Seattle-based AeroTEC, the electric motor startup retrofitted a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with its 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system. The “e-Caravan” took off from AeroTEC’s flight test center at Moses Lake and flew for thirty minutes, climbing up to 2,500 feet and performing “flawlessly,” according to Steve Crane, chief test pilot for AeroTEC.
“What everyone is hearing here is the Cessna 182 chase plane,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said during the live-stream. “The Caravan is hardly making any noise; it’s actually pretty amazing.”
The choice of the Caravan was intentional, according to Ganzarski; it’s a widely-used airframe for both passenger and cargo transit that is still in production and has logged more than 20 million flight hours. And the eCaravan’s first flight — which took off on time, landed on time, and retained ten percent more energy capacity than MagniX and AeroTEC expected it would — was intended to demonstrate “how mature [electric propulsion technology] is and how ready for the world it is.”
“For us, this was really about taking something practical, something real … the Cessna Caravan is one of the most widely-used middle-mile aircraft. It’s a phenomenal platform,” Ganzarski said. “The only challenge a lot of operators have with it is the engine up front, which guzzles a lot of gas, creates a lot of emissions, needs a lot of maintenance and costs a lot of money per hour to operate.”
Another close-up of the modified Cessna 208B Caravan. (MagniX)
Ganzarski believes an electric version of the Caravan would reduce operating costs by 40-80 percent per flight hour, significantly changing the routes operators are able to fly with it. The thirty-minute test flight, which would normally consume jet fuel exceeding $300 in cost, used less than six dollars’ worth of electricity, according to Ganzarski.
“Imagine what that does … to the bottom line or profitability of an airline,” Ganzarski said. “Now they can fly from and to airports and on schedules that they couldn’t have imagined before. Now, they don’t have to justify filling 70 percent of their seats flying into a major airport because that’s the only way to make a few percentage points in earnings.”
In addition to lower fuel costs, the use of electric motors is expected to significantly reduce maintenance costs, eliminating the need for extensive engine overhauls every 3-4,000 hours of operation. Not addressed by MagniX and AeroTEC were the costs involved with battery pack degradation and the need to purchase and swap in a new energy storage system, which analysts expect to be a weighty expense for electric aviation.
Of course, the limited energy density of batteries also comes with significant drawbacks in aircraft performance. The e-Caravan — built with “2019 batteries,” according to Ganzarski — could carry four to five passengers a range of just one hundred miles. By the time MagniX receives FAA certification for its electric propulsion system, which the company expects by the end of 2021, he believes the aircraft will be able to carry “a full load” that distance.
“We’re also working with different types of battery and power sources,” Ganzarski said. “We’re working with lithium sulfur technology companies, solid state battery technology and hydrogen fuel cell. From that perspective, the MagniX propulsion systems are, I’ll call them ‘electron-agnostic.’ Whether the power comes from a battery of any type of chemistry, a fuel cell, or in fact a generator that’s fuel-based, we can take those electrons, turn them into torque, and allow the aircraft to be propelled electrically.”
Lee Human, founder and CEO of AeroTEC, which served as aircraft expert and integrator, said the modification resulted in a much simpler aircraft with fewer parts — and MagniX’s propulsion system is “from an architectural standpoint, the most reliable, redundant propulsion system that I’ve ever seen.”
“The battery architecture — you have basically four channels of power, which can handle failures,” Human told reporters after the flight. “When you go through the magnet controller systems, there are two separate channels. There are two controllers, each one has two channels of control. There are two battery management units, and then even the motor itself is a four-channel system; you have two motors, each motor controlled with two different channels of signal.
“That kind of redundancy, reliability, safety is also new, versus the classic motor that has many single points of failure,” he added. “And they do fail, which is why most airplanes have two engines on them. This is completely different. This power propulsion system can tolerate lots of failure and still be completely operational.”
For AeroTEC, which has engineering offices in Seattle and a flight test center at Moses Lake, electric aviation is very much the company’s future.
“Roei and I, when we decided to launch this together … it’s obvious to everyone that electrification is the future. The systems we have today for flight — jet engines and the like — it’s just not sustainable. It’s there because we have no other choice. Well, today we have another choice … [and] we are going all in for electric flight development testing and certification here at Moses Lake,” Human said, adding that his company has other collaborations upcoming with Israeli startup Eviation, developer of the Alice commuter aircraft.
This is the second all-electric aircraft MagniX has retrofitted and flown in the past six months. Last year, the electric motor startup worked with Vancouver, Canada-based seaplane operator Harbour Air to modify a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, which flew in December. The two companies have partnered to electrify Harbour Air’s entire fleet.
MagniX, founded in Queensland, Australia in 2009, has poured “hundreds of millions” into developing electric motors. The company is funded New Zealand-born billionaire Richard Chandler, who is also funding Israeli electric aviation startup Eviation, reported Seattle Times’ Dominic Gates.
Alongside the electric vertical lift revolution, pushing to create aerial VTOL rideshare in urban cities, MagniX is one of many sustainable aviation startups working on retrofitted or from-scratch conventional fixed-wing concepts to reduce emissions, lower operating costs and hopefully enable new aviation markets.
Leaders in this field see room in the future of sustainable aviation for battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell and other solutions for various types of aircraft and missions.
“Energy storage solutions suitable for a given mission profile are dependent on a wide range of factors that go beyond just the mission, but also include customer needs and vehicle scale (e.g. small drone vs long range commercial jet),” Zach Lovering, founder and CEO of electric fixed-wing startup Aera Aircraft, told Avionics. “Currently, small drone and passenger eVTOL applications are dominated by battery storage. Several companies are looking to hydrogen for higher endurance, however there remain many safety and certification hurdles ahead for those systems.
“Fuel cells offer potentially high specific energy, but suffer from poor specific power and efficiency. Given these trades, it’s clear that the right solution will be dependent on the vehicle and its mission,” he added.”
Lovering, who formerly led the development and flight testing of Airbus’ Vahana eVTOL demonstrator, believes electric aircraft can cut operators’ costs by 50-66 percent, with battery replacement costs serving as the largest limiting factor in further cost reductions. With operators forced to compete at lower ticket prices and flight shaming movement gaining steam, Lovering sees significant momentum in the industry to make all-electric flight mainstream.
“In the next 20 years we will see high specific energy battery cells that are currently in the lab move into certified aircraft,” Lovering told Avionics via email. “These cells will allow eVTOLs to have enough range to satisfy local flights in all-weather (IFR) conditions and will enable electric regional IFR flights with fixed wing airplanes. Likewise, I foresee hybrid electric aircraft being able to satisfy long range flights and improve their operational flexibility and economics.”
Early applications of electric aircraft will be heavily constrained by battery density — and face significant supply chain challenges — but MagniX’s Ganzarski says there is a market, though he wouldn’t discuss the company’s order book.
Electric jets are further in the future, with startup Wright Electric, working on 1.5-megaWatt motors to power a 186-seat zero-emission passenger jet, aiming for entry into service in 2030.
But fully-electric retrofits of widely-used airframes like the Caravan may begin to impact aviation within just a few years. And once passengers experience the quiet, emissions-free reality of electric flight, they may begin to demand it.
“If you look at the airline data for last year, five percent of all worldwide airline flights were a hundred miles or less. So the demand is clearly there,” Lovering said. “We’re talking about two million flights or more, depending on if you include cargo and sub-regional … and we start [using electric aircraft] in that range and grow from there.”
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Jean-François Parent is the Head of Engineering and Chief Engineer of the A220 at Airbus Canada Limited Partnership, in Mirabel, Canada. Photo: Airbus
On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we caught up with Jean-François Parent, head of engineering and chief engineer for the Airbus Canada Limited Partnership’s A220 program.
The chief engineer explains how the A220 and all Airbus airliners are designed to prevent air contamination under normal operating conditions. When at cruising altitudes, the cabin air is a mix of fresh air drawn from the outside of the aircraft and passed through High-Efficiency-Particulate Arrestors (HEPA) filters designed to remove particles in the air down to the size of microscopic bacteria and virus clusters.
The air that is supplied to aircraft lavatories and cargo compartment is evacuated overboard, preventing any return of contaminated air in the cabin. The forward and aft cabin air is distributed from the top of the cabin through airflow channels integral to the passenger baggage overhead bins. It is extracted at floor level. There is no flow forward or rearward along the cabin.
As airline passengers begin to slowly get back on aircraft, this discussion can help explain how a modern airplane keeps their cabin air clean and refreshed.
New and innovative technologies featured on the A220 are also discussed in this episode.
Airbus recently opened its first A220 final assembly line at its Mobile Alabama production site, the second assembly site for the A220 in addition to its program headquarters in Mirabel, Canada.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said during a May 28 webcast hosted by the Washington Post that the cabin refresh of the airline’s fleet of A320s, pictured here, is still going to happen, but has been temporarily paused due to COVID-19. Photo: JetBlue
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said the New York-based airline is still on schedule to take delivery of its first Airbus A220 later this year and will continue the ongoing process of refreshing the cabin interiors on its A320 fleet is still happening through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
During a webcast hosted by The Washington Post May 28, Hayes discussed the de-fogging, cleaning and restoring of passenger safety assuredness measures the airline is taking as passengers slowly start getting back on its airplanes. JetBlue will be one of the first airlines to receive an Airbus A220 assembled in the United States, after Airbus officially opened its new production facility in Mobile, Alabama last week.
“December this year sees the first arrival of one of our Airbus A220 airplanes, they’re a modern airplane, very fuel efficient. We’re going to be taking 70 of those over the next few years and those will gradually phase out our E-190s,” Hayes said
The low cost carrier first confirmed an order for 60 total A220-300s in June 2018, which included an agreement with Airbus for options on an additional 60 aircraft and the flexibility to convert some of its orders to the smaller A220-100, which has about 110 to 115 seats compared to the larger variant’s 130 to 140 seats.
The fleet retirement of JetBlue’s Embraer E-190 aircraft was already on schedule to begin this year, with no indication given by Hayes that would slip. One project JetBlue has had to temporarily pause due to COVID-19 is the updating of their A320 cabins. In March 2019, a plan for re-styling their A320 fleet was unveiled to include a new in-flight entertainment system and an new seating and power outlets installed at every seat.
Other improvements coming to the A320s include an upgrade to the Thales AVANT IFE system and ViaSat-2 connectivity.
“All of our A320s, we’re going through a cabin restarting, we’re replacing the interiors, all of those with new seats, new entertainment systems, so when you get in it’s going to look like new. And we were just over halfway through that process when COVID hit and we put that on pause and we’ll pick that up again once demand suggests we need the airplanes. But within a couple years every airplane we have is either going to look new, or be new,” Hayes said.
During JetBlue’s recent third quarter earnings call, the airline reported a 15 percent year over year decline in first quarter 2020 revenue, attributed mostly to a 52 percent decline in revenue in March due to the impact of COVID-19 using lower demand for passenger travel. While the order for new Airbus A220s remains in place, JetBlue has reworked its order book with Airbus that helped lead to a $1.1 billion reduction on aircraft capital expenditures through 2022.
JetBlue started operating its first A321neo, pictured here, in September. It still plans on starting flights to London next year using its first A321LR, though the launch of flights to London are likely to be delayed until later than planned in 2021, according to comments made by Hayes during the May 28 webcast. Photo: JetBlue
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), P.L. 116-136 – which became law on March 27 to provide $25 billion in economic relief for U.S.-based passenger airlines – JetBlue received an allocation of $935.8 million, $250.7 million of which it will start paying back beginning in October, with the remaining provided in direct support. On Thursday, Hayes, whose airline also has lost six employees that died from COVID-19, said that without the relief funds, JetBlue would have had to take much more drastic measure.
“If it wasn’t for the CARES Act I can’t speak for other airlines but I think that from a JetBlue perspective the sensible thing would’ve been just to ground the fleet, furlough the vast majority of our people, all of that money under federal law has to go to directly pay our crew members,” Hayes said.
COVID-19 also will not cancel JetBlue’s plans to start flying from New York to London using the first new generation Airbus A321LR it started operating in September last year. The JetBlue executive expects demand for leisure travel to rebound faster than business travel, and projects demand for flights between the U.S. and Europe to start picking back up toward the second half of 2021.
“As we looked at May we flew about 10 to 15 percent of our normal schedule, in June we’re probably going to flying around 25 percent of our normal schedule, so you’re seeing a small amount of uptick, but we’re assuming it will be an L-shaped recovery we’re planning conservatively for that,” Hayes said. “Before this happened we were flying like 15 flights a day between Boston and Washington, we’re not going to be flying 15 flights a day for a while. But maybe four or five or six, it’s just going to be a much lower volume for business travel for a while.”
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