MR-AVIONICS_3-Universal_Avionics_promo.jpg Universal Avionics

What’s Hot In Airline Avionics Upgrades

Airlines’ avionics upgrade efforts target obsolescence with enhanced vision and connectivity to support predictive maintenance.

Printed headline: Avionics Advances Beyond ADS-B

The major push toward installation of automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) is nearing important milestones if not the finish line. All U.S. commercial aircraft are expected to meet the FAA’s Jan. 1 deadline, and about 75% of Europe’s airliners are expected to have ADS-B by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) June 7 deadline.

Elsewhere, progress on ADS-B is highly uneven, and data are patchy. Aircraft in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Taiwan have at least partially met requirements for equipage. Collins Aerospace Marketing Manager Michael McDowell cites an upcoming mandate for ADS-B in China. Latin American regulators have not required ADS-B but are starting to follow U.S. and European requirements. ADS-B also has not been mandated in Africa, but a group of African nations has agreed to use Aireon’s space-based ADS-B, so they likely will move toward installation.

“Asia is well-equipped, mostly because a lot of new aircraft have been delivered,” McDowell notes. Middle Eastern carriers tend to follow European requirements and also have newer fleets.

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A Boeing 787 flight deck with head-up displays from Collins Aerospace.

Meanwhile, there is more going on in avionics than just ADS-B. Upgrades tend to be specific to the needs of each carrier and depend on the age and type of aircraft. They also reflect national regulators’ decisions on which avionics equipment will be rewarded with eased operational rules for specific aircraft types so equipped. Express-delivery aircraft seem to be good candidates for upgrades because they tend to be old and yet must meet rigorous schedules. But the most common trend in upgrades is to include any hardware or software that will increase connectivity between the ground, aircraft and cockpit, mostly for maintenance purposes.

FMS Upgrades

Universal Avionics Director of Airline Sales Scott Campbell divides his avionics prospects into several segments: flight management systems (FMS), data link systems, cockpit voice and flight data recorders, and Elbit Systems’ Clearvision line of enhanced-vision products, which Universal sells.

Campbell is seeing record FMS sales for business aviation and regional airline aircraft, with the strength of this market clearly related to the FAA’s ADS-B “Out” mandate. Universal’s FMS include a key element of ADS-B Out: a GPS with a satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS). “Our customers are either installing or updating their FMS for ADS-B,” Campbell says.

These FMS are applicable to regional aircraft like Bombardier Q400s, some Embraer regional jets and ATR models. They also can be installed on older mainline aircraft like Boeing 737 Classics, DC-9s and MD-80s. One DC-9 fleet is now getting the devices. “We still have quite a bit of activity, and a significant backlog of orders from Europe and the U.S.,” Campbell reports.

One example of FMS equipage on older regional aircraft is Envoy Air’s, a project that is close to completion. Envoy removed FMS/GPS Model UNS-1Ks that were more than 20 years old and did not meet the accuracy requirements of ADS-B Out, replacing them with Universal’s new UNS-1LWs.

The units were installed on 169 aircraft, taking four days each. “All active ERJ 140s and 145s were modified,” Envoy spokesperson Minnette Velez-Conty says. During Envoy’s FMS installation, ADS-B Out transponders also were  upgraded.

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Skylens goggles are designed to provide the same benefits as fixed HUDs and vision displays.

Universal FMS also are being installed on Canadian regional aircraft that fly to the U.S., and it is expected they will be added to aircraft on Canada’s domestic routes before the country’s own ADS-B mandate begins to take effect in 2021, Campbell notes. And there should be more FMS-for-ADS-B business around the world.

“Mexico is falling in line with U.S. requirements, some others already have ADS-B in Asia, and there is some discussion of it in parts of Africa,” he says.

One South African carrier is upgrading with a Universal FMS, but Campbell is not sure if it is for ADS-B or other purposes. “It might be operational,” he adds.

The Universal FMS also enables localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) approaches, the most precise GPS instrument approach without special training such as required navigation performance (RNP). “You can fly LPV down to 200 ft. like ILS [instrument landing system],” Campbell explains.

Universal’s data-link solution, UniLink, has been “gaining momentum,” he says. It complies with both U.S. and European data communication requirements and has been installed on a number of fleets, including Cargo Air’s 10 737-300 and -400 freighters.

Enhanced Vision

Elbit’s Clearvision system uses a multispectral camera to see at night and through fog, haze and other light obstruction. FAA guidance allows carriers equipped with such capabilities to perform approaches and departures that would not be possible, as the naked eye alone could not see runways. It thus provides significant operational advantages, and Campbell is seeing “positive feedback” on the upgrade. Universal is working on a Clearvision supplemental type certificate (STC) for the 737NG, expected to come out in Summer 2020.

Another major market that interests both Elbit and Universal is China. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has mandated that aircraft be equipped with head-up displays (HUD) by 2025. The HUD itself might show only flight data and symbols on a clear panel in front of the pilot so he or she need not glance down at lower displays during landings. But adding enhanced-vision technology to the HUD yields even bigger advantages, including the ability to see through, and thus land in, the heavy smog that is common in fast-industrializing China. “We are promoting enhanced vision and HUDs worldwide,” Campbell says.

One edge Universal and Elbit may have in this effort is Skylens, a set of head-worn pilot goggles that provide the same benefits as fixed HUDs and have vision displays on them, according to Campbell. “The software meets all the requirements of a fixed HUD and for retrofits; fixed HUDs are a nightmare of ripping and tearing, while Skylens has a small footprint and is simple to install,” he says.

Clearvision is being offered as an optional line-fit on new ATR aircraft. Universal’s enhanced vision system (EVS) is installed on thousands of business aircraft, and work is proceeding on more STCs. Campbell says he is getting “positive feedback” on this upgrade as well, whether in a fixed HUD or wearable Skylens form.

FedEx has installed an early Elbit EVS on all its Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s,  and MD-10s and MD-11s. Dan Allen, FedEx managing director of flight technology and regulatory compliance, says HUDs with enhanced vision enable its pilots to conduct approaches in some low-instrument-flight-rules conditions when other aircraft must hold or divert. “We’ve seen numerous examples where FedEx is the only aircraft able to land,” he says.

When will all the positive feedback on Universal’s data link and enhanced vision turn into orders and installations? “I think some airlines will take a break and breathe a little after ADS-B,” Campbell predicts. “That was a major headache for them.”

GPS and Obsolescence

Joseph Gallo, Collins’ director of marketing for commercial avionics, also sees many opportunities for upgrades. For example, the OEM’s latest GPS landing units (GLU) were designed for software-only upgrades so they will be able to handle signals from the multiple positioning-satellite constellations that will be operating by the middle of the next decade. These upgrades will be most attractive for widebody aircraft that fly across several regions, where use of specific satellites may be mandatory, and in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, according to McDowell. “Less so in the domestic U.S. or Europe,” he adds.

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Universal Avionics flight management systems are seeing record sales due to the FAA’s ADS-B mandate.

Relatively low fuel prices are keeping older aircraft in fleets longer and thus raising obsolescence issues. “Radar systems and older communication and radios will need to be upgraded,” Gallo says. And cathode-ray-tube (CRT) flight displays are getting old and less satisfactory.

If an airline plans to keep an old aircraft with CRT in service for only 3-5 years, a simple swap-out of liquid-crystal displays (LCD) for CRTs may suffice. Delta Air Lines is doing this on its 757s and 767s. But Gallo argues that flying an aircraft longer, up to 10 years, justifies a “full-up” upgrade with new LCD and input-output connections. Collins’ LCDs come with these connections, which allow both fuller and clearer displays of data. Upgrades have been made on FedEx 757s and 767s, and Collins is talking to LATAM about retrofitting 10-year-old 767s.

UPS has installed ADS-B Out on its fleet and is now replacing CRT monitors with Collins LCDs on all its 757s and 767s. By early fall, 35 757s were reequipped, as were nine 767s, says spokesman Jim Mayer.

The express carrier also has contracted with Airbus for major upgrades of 52 A300 cockpits. The aircraft will get new FMS, GPS, weather radars and aircraft communications addressing and reporting systems (ACARS). Upgrades also include the latest enhanced ground-proximity warning systems, new standby instruments and a new central maintenance system to increase maintenance information. LCDs with better vertical situation displays will replace older versions and enable future applications such as synthetic vision, Mayer notes.

Gallo says HUDs are common in the U.S., on more than three-quarters of its 737s. China will require HUDs by 2025, several Indian airlines are interested, and Gallo recently has seen some interest in Europe.

The attractiveness of HUDs and the possible addition of EVS derives chiefly from regulation. The FAA offers lower landing visibility minimums for HUD-equipped aircraft and even lower ones for those with enhanced vision. Gallo says Europe has adopted these U.S. rules, triggering carrier interest in HUDs and enhanced vision, and he hopes China will also. Collins helps airlines project how much they can increase their completion rates with the upgrades, given weather conditions at their airports and the eased rules offered by their regulators.

McDowell says Collins plans to offer its LPV retrofit by 2022, and India will soon require this capability. In addition to enabling more efficient landings at ill-equipped airports, LPV allows more flexibility in approaches than standard ILS, he notes. Only the Airbus A220 comes with LPV now, but the Collins executive thinks the capability may become more popular. Boeing and Airbus have told customers that SBAS to enable LPV will be available on new aircraft in 2020. Widebodies that fly into major airports are not considered good candidates for LPV, but smaller aircraft in some regions may be.

“Connectivity is a hot topic,” Gallo stresses. More carriers are becoming more interested in data ownership, getting data off of aircraft, moving it around on the ground and doing preventive maintenance. Collins has an on-ground network inherited from ARINC and its IntelliSight aircraft interface device to collect aircraft data and distribute it to the ground, via cabin Wi-Fi, radio, ACARS or cellular nets after landing, all according to customer instructions.

EFBs and Connectivity

Greg Francois, avionics product sales manager at Honeywell Aerospace, agrees with Gallo, saying the biggest single upcoming trend in avionics is the use of electronic flight bags (EFB) and wireless connectivity for EFBs into and out of the cockpit. Honeywell offers satellite communication products like JetWave and Aspire for this market.

More generally, Gallo sees upgrade opportunities, even in the newest jets. Even the Boeing 787 began its design journey 15 years ago, a much different age in the electronics world. “Smaller, cheaper, lighter and more digital is the direction we are heading,” he predicts.

Alexander Krause, product sales manager for avionics, flight deck modifications and base maintenance at Lufthansa Technik (LHT), says the company has investigated EVS, especially for the Chinese market. “In contrast to HUDs, we estimate that enhanced vision will offer merely qualitative advantages for flight operations and therefore will be less attractive to our customers,” he notes.

Krause sees concern about the coming obsolescence of aircraft equipped with old CRTs. “Operators seek LCD plug-and-play solutions, which can be intermixed, meaning old CRTs and new digital LCDs operated in one cockpit simultaneously. This way, CRTs can be replaced by attrition,” he says.

And, like Collins and Honeywell, LHT is seeing a strong demand for improved EFBs, with state-of-the-art software, integration of flight data parameters via aircraft interface devices and customized connectivity to meet each airline’s specific demands for data, both in flight and on the ground.

Krause says each airline increasingly follows its own digital and data concepts, so LHT must provide tailored solutions. But however they obtain it, more and more airlines want complete access to flight data to support predictive maintenance.

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