Avionics update 2015

Embraer Phenom 300 Cockpit

AVIONICS / ON THE FLY | 21/04/2015

Improved safety. Better cockpit resource management. Enhanced efficiency. Augmented performance. Operational cost saving. These are all terms we read with frequency when speaking about the avionics world and its place in the aviation community today. This is one segment that is constantly coming out with new ways and means to get from point A to B in the best and most reliable way with safety as the core focus. Rob Seaman reports.

The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) trade show and convention has just wrapped up and by all accounts the market is doing well. A media release from the convention floor (this was the 58th annual AEA gathering, held in Dallas, Texas) states that in the AEA 2014 year-end Avionics Market Report, the total worldwide business and general aviation avionics sales for the year amounted to more than $2.5 billion. That figure represents a 4% increase in sales compared to the previous year. 

According to AEA, the dollar amount reported (using net sales price, not manufacturer’s suggested retail price) includes: all business and general aviation aircraft electronic sales – including all component and accessories in cockpit/cabin/software upgrades/portables/certified and noncertified aircraft electronics; all hardware (tip to tail); batteries; and chargeable product upgrades from the participating manufacturers. The amount does not include repairs and overhauls, extended warranty or subscription services. 

Interestingly, the report notes that of the more than $2.5 billion in total sales, 51.4% came from forward-fit (avionics equipment installed by airframe manufacturers during original production) sales. The retrofit (avionics equipment installed after original production) market amounted to 48.6% of total sales for the year. That’s close enough to call the split 50/50 and shows the strength in not only new aircraft needs, but also the support and enthusiasm for upgrading and maintaining older and legacy airframes to current standards.

According to the companies that separated their total sales figures between North America (US and Canada) and other international markets, 62.6% of the 2014 sales volume occurred in North America, while 37.4% took place in other international markets.

What’s driving the market?

ADS-B is, without question, the number one issue that is keeping both the OEMs and avionics shops hopping. As Barry Aylward, former AEA board member and president of Kitchener Aero Avionics and Mid-Canada Mod Center – a sales, design, installation and service provider stated: “ADS-B is a big, complex, and confusing subject. Also noteworthy to the conversation is the subject of ‘deltas’ between what the US is doing for smaller aircraft as opposed to the rest of the world.”  

The FAA recently stated that “rule-compliant DO-260B Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipment has thus far been installed onboard 10,000 US-registered aircraft.”  Their latest estimate is there are between 100,000 to 160,000 General Aviation (GA) aircraft that need to be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics prior to the January 1, 2020 mandate. And that is just in the US!

Aylward’s companies have been working the ADS-B compliance requirement with their clients for several years now. “On the larger aircraft side, the general agreement is that ADS-B Out in Extended Squitter format meets RTCA document DO260B and would meet today’s worldwide requirements and past 2020,” he says. “However, ADS-B In has not been mandated anywhere to my knowledge.”

Duncan Aviation is another “shop” deeply involved in ADS-B upgrades and installation – along with many other aspects of service and support. According to information published by them, on May 27, 2010, the FAA published new rules mandating airspace and avionics performance requirements after January 1, 2020. Advisory Circular AC 20-165A issued in November 2012 provides guidance for the installation and airworthiness approval of ADS-B Out systems in aircraft. The mandated avionics perform the ADS-B Out function, which transmits precise location and other information about the aircraft to ground stations and other aircraft equipped with ADS-B. However, the rule does not mandate ADS-B In avionics, which enable other services available with ADS-B.

Aircraft outfitted with ADS-B In avionics can take advantage of broadcast services of data, like graphical and text-based weather, traffic advisories, and other aeronautical information in the flight deck. The ADS-B rule mandates ADS-B Out avionics performance when operating within designated affected airspace, giving aircraft owners approximately seven years to equip their aircraft. The ADS-B rule, like current transponder operating requirements, requires operators to have ADS-B Out avionics installed and operating in order to fly their aircraft in the busiest airspace.

It is important to note that the ADS-B rule did not change or affect current transponder or RVSM maintenance requirements.

Lots of choices

So that might all seem as clear as mud to some. But it gets better. You really get an understanding of how important and, at the same complex, this issue is when two OEMs team up to work on the solution. During the AEA, Universal Avionics and Rockwell Collins announced that they have teamed up to bring an affordable, integrated ADS-B Out solution to business aircraft operators.

According to their release, the solution was designed to allow operators to add the Rockwell Collins TDR-94(D) Mode S Transponder to their Universal Avionics SBAS-Flight Management System (FMS) installation to meet the ADS-B Out mandate. In addition, operators are able to equip for Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) and Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV).

“The biggest value of this package is that operators receive an integrated SBAS-FMS,” says Universal Avionics Manager of Business Development Carey Miller. “While providing ADS-B Out compliance, an important feature of our combined solution is that it also provides a path to future technologies and mandates such as LPV and data link, whereas other solutions only address ADS-B Out.”

All the leading OEMs in the avionics industry – and some smaller groups too – have been and are still working on ADS-B solutions. As a case in point, JETTECH is an aviation systems design firm. They specialize in aftermarket solutions for General Aviation aircraft that are not supported by a factory OEM engineered installation, and alternatives to factory solutions. During the AEA they announced they are now adding the recently released Garmin GTX 3000ES ADS-B capable transponder to their existing STC covering Garmin GTN install on Citation and Citation Jet (CJ) aircraft equipped with TCAS II.

The JETTECH Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) amendment affects both the FAA and EASA authorizations and will ensure that Citation TCAS II equipped aircraft will have the means to comply with the ADS-B mandate of January 1, 2020.

To sum this one up: there are lots of choices and options out there. The OEMs are making the products to service the need and the avionics “shops” are working with them to develop the solutions. Some browsing and window-shopping, plus asking questions of the providers and their users, is going to be the smart shop on this one.

Don’t forget about FANS!

A quick education here: FANS is a brand of CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communications). There is a spin-off of CPDLC in Europe called Link 2000+. Both of these systems allow the crew to communicate with ATC through data link. With a FANS equipped aircraft, it is entirely possible and common for the aircraft to not need to speak with ATC while crossing the Atlantic, for example. No real need for HF Voice communications, although that requirement hasn’t been removed.

Needless to say, during AEA there was lots of FANS related discussion and announcements too. For their part, Rockwell Collins have a new offering that combines its FANS 1/A upgrade for the Bombardier Challenger 604, Falcon 50EX, Falcon 2000 and Falcon 2000EX aircraft – equipped with the company’s avionics with an annual subscription to its premium suite of ARINCDirect flight support mobile applications and services.

Rockwell Collins’ FANS 1/A upgrade consists of new avionics hardware and associated service bulletin updates to support Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C) and Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC). By combining the upgrade with ARINCDirect service, operators will gain FANS 1/A Federal Aviation Administration letter of authorization assistance, flight planning, weather, VHF/SATCOM data link connectivity and 24/7 global support.

Not to be left out of the discussion here, Universal also announced they have added nine aircraft to their growing list of platforms with FANS 1/A+ Solutions. In this case, the added aircraft platforms include Bombardier Challenger CL-600, CL-601, CL-601 3A/R and CL-604, and Gulfstream 1125 Westwind Astra, Astra SPX, G100, GIV and GIVSP.

Once again this is but one solution. Research and discussion with your favorite avionics folks and some other operator friends will help you come to a decision of what you need, what it will cost and how best to proceed.

And as we say – there is never a dull day in aviation. Tomorrow will bring yet again something new and worth looking at.