Whether applied to intercontinental commercial jets or owner-flown general aviation aircraft, the emerging generation of avionics is becoming more flight-safety focused.
“Any avionics product coming onto the market today has to address safety, which ranks just under functionality as the customer’s primary consideration,” notes Delmar Fadden, technical advisor at Sandel Avionics in Vista, California. “When you get a little deeper into the conversation with a customer, you begin to see that safety emerges as a definite part of system function.”
Citing National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics, Fadden reports pilot error is a cause or contributing factor in 50-70% of commercial airline accidents and 80% of those involving general aviation aircraft. “Most pilot errors are the result of misunderstanding what is going on at a given time during the flight,” he says. “We see this mismatch as a safety issue and an area in avionics which is very fruitful for development.”
According to Joe Gallo, Rockwell Collins director for air transport systems marketing, there has been an increase in automation to reduce pilot workload and enhance safety. “More intuitive interfaces and consumer-electronics technologies such as touch screens, are moving to avionics,” he says, citing enhanced vision systems (EVS) as an emerging safety-of-flight solution.
“While flying has never been safer, we continue to see increased congestion, and enhanced vision systems will provide pilots a never-before degree of clarity of the external environment,” he notes. “With the greater safety they provide, we can improve operations for low-visibility takeoff and landing in challenging environmental conditions.”
Gallo adds that the newest EVS technology will also improve situational awareness for pilots. “Current EVS systems do not capture visual light and a lesser spectrum of infrared. Our new EVS solution, however, will provide a multispectral view of the external environment and provide greater situational awareness,” he says. “We can also assist by providing better and more automated functions [such as alerts for adverse weather conditions] to allow the pilot to focus on flying and managing the aircraft,” he adds. The product, marketed as the EVS-3000, was certified in 2016 on the Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 business jets. Rockwell continues to explore retrofit opportunities for this system on commercial airliners.
“Maturity of systems in the business aviation market allows Rockwell Collins to place them on larger aircraft with more difficult certification standards,” says Gallo.
Vision enhancement technology is becoming an emerging feature on flight deck displays. Universal Avionics Systems certified its InSight Integrated Flight Display System, a cockpit upgrade retrofit intended for aircraft using analog cockpits or less capable older-generation electronic flight instrument displays, in early 2017, according to Scott Campbell, director of airline and military sales for the Tucson, Arizona-based company. “Its flexible building-block architecture lends itself to application on a wide range of aircraft,” he notes. The hardware and software package includes three to five cockpit displays, depending on the aircraft.
An evolution of Universal’s EFI-890 display product, InSight, Campbell says, is unique in that it incorporates a high-resolution airport-mapping database as a part of its synthetic vision system, which is shown on the system’s primary flight display.
“We expect to see significant improvements in pilot situational awareness, since InSight will enable the pilot to avoid using the wrong runway or taxiway, reducing the risk of ground collisions with other aircraft as well as any on-airport equipment,” Campbell notes. “The display shows the presence of runway and taxiway signs as well as the lines that guide aircraft to and from those surfaces.” Structures on airport property are also represented.
As an add-on, operators may opt for a database showing obstacles located outside the airport’s perimeter.
The airport database has the potential for global coverage, but as Campbell points out, the high-resolution airport data is limited to what is available to Universal from its outside supplier, Jeppesen.
InSight, Campbell says, is applicable to any transport category aircraft as well as business aircraft and helicopters. “We see growth opportunities in all three areas, but at this time, we believe that business aircraft will be the primary market. However, we are working with some air carriers who have indicated an interest in buying the system for retrofit on their aircraft.”
Universal Avionics Systems has “generated a progression of new technology” to enhance flight safety, says Bill Stone, senior business development manager. One example is SurfaceWatch, a runway monitoring system that uses takeoff/landing distances entered by the pilot during pre-flight preparations. The system provides indications and alerts that can help prevent pilots from taking a taxiway by mistake or using a runway that is too short. The alerts are issued aurally and displayed on the primary flight display. SurfaceWatch also will display remaining runway distances during takeoff roll.
“For example, the pilot has entered information into the [flight management system] that the aircraft will take off from a specific runway at a specific airport, but if the pilot accidentally positions the aircraft to take off from a different runway, then SurfaceWatch will alert the pilot so he can take corrective action,” says Stone.
Another important feature incorporated in SurfaceWatch is its ability to process the aircraft’s performance data, he says. “If the aircraft is lined up for a particular runway but does not have the capability to use it,” for instance, if the aircraft’s takeoff weight is too heavy for the runway length, the pilot will be alerted, Stone says. “The principle here is that it is issuing an alert that is actionable at the time,” he explains.
Cessna’s new SkyCourier twin turboprop utility aircraft, slated for entry into service in 2020 by launch customer FedEx, will incorporate SurfaceWatch. “Garmin developed this technology because we saw a number of challenges involving pilot situational awareness, to make it safer and more efficient,” says Stone.
SkyCourier will also be the first commercial aircraft application of Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP), a Garmin system that works with the flight-control servos to keep the aircraft within the parameters of its designed flight envelope.
“If a pilot exceeds the aircraft’s bank angle, or angle of up or down pitch, the ESP system will automatically engage the servos to keep the aircraft within its normal flight envelope,” Stone points out.
Garmin, he explains, began developing ESP technology in the 2011-12 time frame and has added further enhancements and capabilities. One example, available for the past several years as a component of ESP, is Emergency Descent Mode (EDM). Hypoxia prevention is among the benefits. “If the aircraft is above an altitude in which the oxygen in the cabin is not dense enough to breathe, the aircraft will automatically descend to a level where the cabin air is breathable,” explains Stone. He adds that EDM, which is already available for general aviation aircraft, will be a part of the SkyCourier’s avionics package. Going forward, Stone sees its application to other commercial platforms.
One of the future avionics trends emerging on many air carriers’ radar for flight safety enhancement is automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast “In” for improved air traffic control.
By Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B “Out” capability will be mandated for all aircraft flying in U.S. airspace, requiring Mode C transponder equipage—with the European Aviation Safety Agency’s mandate following by June 7, 2020. The technology—considered an integral part of the NextGen air traffic management system in the U.S.—will replace current radar surveillance since it will incorporate an onboard transmitter that will continuously provide air traffic controllers with the aircraft’s real-time position via satellite communications. Because ADS-B Out will deliver more extensive and precise information, air traffic controllers will be able to better position and separate aircraft.
ADS-B In, however, takes the technology a step further by enabling the aircraft to receive and display the presence of nearby air traffic, which will help pilots.
“While there is no mandate for ADS-B In—unlike ADS-B Out—initial deployment of the system will demonstrate the benefits to the operators in the form of fuel savings, flight optimization and traffic situational awareness,” says Eric Baumert, vice president for sales, business development, marketing and customer support for ACSS (Aviation Communication and Surveillance Systems), a joint venture of L3 Technologies and Thales. “These first deployments will help them understand the value of ADS-B In to their operations, and further deployments will follow,” he notes.
ACSS, says Baumert, now provides the certified ADS-B In SafeRoute suite of software applications. “In the commercial segment, several airlines have discussed their interest in the potential operational benefits that could be gained with ADS-B In applications,” he reports. “We believe that as more aircraft become equipped with ADS-B Out to meet that mandate, all market segments—including commercial, business and general aviation—will begin to understand and realize the benefits of traffic situational awareness on the flight deck that ADS-B In offers.”
Baumert also reports that airlines have expressed interest in the potential benefits of ADS-B In as Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) is deployed.
ACSS, he explains, is “participating in research, development and testing of other traffic and surveillance innovations” including ACAS X, which is being developed by the FAA Traffic Alert and Collision-Avoidance System (TCAS) Program Office, and industry. “ACAS X is a successor to TCAS II to support NextGen,” says Baumert. “It will improve collision-avoidance logic and support multiple surveillance data sources.”
Another area of ACSS collaboration with the FAA and others in the industry is traffic and surveillance systems in the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) market space. “As flights of these aircraft in their different size classes expands, sense-and-avoid avionics will become increasingly critical,” Baumert adds.