Phoenix-based aerospace manufacturer Honeywell is under an ongoing contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to study the usability of various forms of touch technology, such as cockpit displays that will help to determine what factors would cause pilots to make more input errors or take longer to perform tasks as compared to traditional manually controlled cockpit interfaces.
Honeywell is targeting business aviation and regional air transport aircraft for a new line of touchscreen avionics that it is currently developing, with the FAA-contracted research.
The company has not announced any specific aircraft that will receive touchscreen-enabled flight displays, but according to Jeff Merdich, director of product marketing for Honeywell’s commercial avionics division, business jets and regional aircraft are the target market.
As part of its research, Honeywell recreates the turbulent flight deck environment where touchscreen avionics will be deployed with a “six degrees of freedom flight deck simulation platform,” according to Merdich. This allows test pilots to interact with touchscreen-enabled avionics displays mounted at forward, outboard and overhead cockpit positions.
|The Crew Interface Motion Simulator (CIMS)
where Honeywell performs touchscreen
avionics human factors research.
“This allows the collection of accurate, repeatable data relating to pilot workload, accuracy and fatigue to ensure that we understand the efficiency of these devices in a flight deck environment,” said Merdich. “We also utilize Honeywell’s fleet of flight test aircraft to extend this research to the actual flight environment.”
Central to Honeywell’s research are human factors engineering principles, which involve studying the interaction of the pilot’s mind with proposed avionics systems, rather than focusing on the avionics alone.
“We have a heavy focus on human factors, including the appropriate intended function and functional allocation for touch technology on the flight deck,” said Merdich. “Our research has shown that there are key attributes — technology, location, button size, spacing, menu navigation, etc. — to the implementation of touch that are instrumental toward ensuring a satisfying user experience with touch in this unique environment.”
Focusing on human factors should help to relieve fears expressed by operators and pilots in reaction to previous reports on touchscreen technology regarding inadvertent touchscreen swipes. To address inadvertent touchscreen interactions, Honeywell’s researchers and engineers are evaluating the usability of differing touch technologies, such as digital resistive technology, which requires more pressure to change the function of the interface than would a typical swipe on a touchscreen smartphone or tablet.
So how long until the industry sees the widespread deployment of cockpit touchscreen technology? That depends on the intended function and usability for intended function, said Merdich.
“With the continued growth of touch in the commercial technology space, we do see a transition to this technology over time,” said Merdich. “Intended function and usability for intended function will be a key driver behind adoption of this or other interface modalities.”
In July 2014 Honeywell will present the results of its touchscreen research to the FAA for the agency to take into consideration for regulatory guidelines, and the conclusions will also help to guide their future product designs.
Avionics manufacturers reported total combined sales of more than $1.72 billion for the third quarter of 2013, according to the latest quarterly avionics market report released by the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) Thursday, Nov. 21.
The trends within the quarterly sales figures indicate the reporting manufacturers are on pace to match or improve upon the total year-end sales for 2012 of $6.3 billion.
The report captures sales figures from 20 participating aviation electronic manufacturers and tracks all components and accessories in cockpit, cabin and software upgrades (tip to tail). AEA’s report does not track repairs, overhauls and extended warranty or subscription services.
Among reporting companies were Cobham, Garmin, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Universal Avionics. The third quarter total was a slight improvement from the first quarter sales of $1.7 billion and second quarter sales of $1.6 billion, bringing the total through the first three quarters of the year to more than $5 billion.
Based on expanding demand for new aircraft deliveries, airlines in the Middle East will require 100,000 new pilots and technicians over the next two decades according to a new forecast released by Boeing at the Dubai Airshow.
The Boeing outlook projects a need for 40,000 pilots and 53,100 technicians in the Middle East over the next two decades. That would be an average of 2,000 new pilots and 2,600 new airline technicians annually.
The forecast states that 60 percent of the pilot demand will be driven by “increased deliveries of twin-aisle airplanes.” That demand was confirmed during the first day of the Dubai Airshow, where Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways combined placed firm orders and purchase agreements for more than $150 billion worth of new Airbus and Boeing aircraft.
The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is considering the implementation of the wider availability of instrument-based approach procedures at smaller airports throughout Britain. The CAA asked pilots, air traffic controllers and operators to submit comments and suggestions on which potential airports can go from using ground based navigational aids to satellite based approaches that rely on aircraft avionics systems.
When performing instrument based approach procedures, the aircraft follows a pre-set flight pattern from initial approach to touch-down on the runway. The CAA believes some of its airports can replace older technology with these new approach procedures and save money on “costly ground infrastructure.”
“We feel it is time to introduce a ‘risk-based’ policy which would allow instrument approaches to be introduced at a greater number of UK aerodromes [airports],” said Phil Roberts, head of airspace, air traffic management and aerodromes at the CAA.
“Although not exclusively related to satellite navigation systems — as applicants could still apply for an instrument approach based on conventional navigation aids — it is likely to be of most benefit at some of the smaller aerodromes where advantage could be taken of satellite technologies.”
The CAA is seeking suggestions from industry stakeholders through the end of the year.
Successful flight tests of Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) landing approaches at Frankfurt and Toulouse-Blagnac Airports represents the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program’s goal of replacing legacy Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches with satellite based approaches at airports throughout Europe.
In September, SESAR partnered with Honeywell, Airbus, Thales, DFS and Eurocontrol to carry out flight tests with a Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet using GBAS CAT II/III ground equipment (GASTD) at both Frankfurt and Toulouse. The successful flight tests demonstrated that Category II/III approaches are achievable using the GASTD system based on a unique constellation and mono frequency signal, according to a statement from SESAR.
Different scenarios including multi path evaluations, full scale deviations and CAT III to II regression testing and back were evaluated during the flight trials, in an effort to prove the validity of GBAS and show that an airborne receiver installed on the Falcon 900EX could integrate seamlessly with the different ground stations at both airports.
The flight tests also validated work that was done over the past 10 months by the project partners to ensure that CAT III avionics receiver prototypes can integrate with prototypes for ground stations and airport air traffic control infrastructure.
The full validation cycle of the system and procedures has not been completed yet; when it is validated and certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), SESAR will look to replace legacy ILS systems at airports throughout Europe. ILS technology was first introduced in the U.S. in the 1930s, and while reliable, it simply cannot handle the future projected increase in air traffic in Europe and around the globe.
|A computer generated
rendering of an airplane
runway approach using
“ILS technology was first explored back in the late 1930s, and then it came into widespread use when newer airplanes were built and newer avionics were put onboard,” said Sean Cassidy, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and a commercial Boeing 737 pilot. “And it’s worked very well, but it has limitations. First of all there’s installation costs, there’s maintenance costs and ILS signals can’t bend around mountains, they can’t go through mountains, they can’t avoid obstacles, so basically an ILS approach is a straight-in approach to a runway point.”
For those reasons, among others, both the SESAR program in Europe and FAA’s NextGen modernization in the U.S. are moving towards a satellite-based air traffic management system.
Honeywell’s Smartpath system is the first GBAS system to be certified by the FAA for CAT I landings, and they’re currently developing it for CAT III. The system allows aircraft to land in conditions where there is a half-mile visibility at a 200-foot decision height on approach. The system, and all GBAS systems, are designed for aircraft equipped with GPS landing system technology. Most Airbus and Boeing current production commercial aircraft are equipped with GBAS avionics, or feature optional upgrades.
GBAS systems also present significant cost savings for airports and airlines that have to pay Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) to use landing systems. According to Honeywell, one Smartpath system installed at a typical airport can yield savings of up to $400,000 annually in maintenance savings as compared to using ILS.
“That’s why we’re moving towards a satellite based navigation system and operation system for the National Airspace System (NAS),” Cassidy said, referring to FAA’s NextGen program. “By putting more of the equipage on the airplane and relying less on the equipage on the ground, you’re creating a lot more efficiency. You don’t have to worry about maintaining thousands of ground based beacons and ILS stations.”
Going forward, SESAR plans on performing the same flight tests with commercial aircraft, with an ultimate goal of using CAT III GBAS approaches throughout Europe on commercial flights. Further testing for Toulouse and Frankfurt is scheduled for mid-2014.
Flight approval procedures have been simplified for private aircraft operated within Chinese airspace, a reform that could lead to greater development of China’s general aviation (GA) industry.
Under the new procedures, jointly issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the military, GA aircraft operators flying outside of restricted airspace within the country no longer need to submit flight plans to the military. The majority of airspace in China is controlled by the military, making it difficult for GA operators to conduct business in the region.
GA flights will still need flight plans filed but they will no longer need to obtain prior flight approval. GA manufacturers such as Cessna and Beechcraft could find new opportunities in China because of the rule changes. China’s GA industry is still in its very early stages, with a limited number of GA airports and operators which were previously limited by the military to flying one to two GA aircraft within airspace at a time.
Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), commended the Chinese government for “taking this initial step” and that he looks forward to continued reform of GA regulations in China.
“We commend the government for taking this initial step and we look forward to the pending release of further regulations that more clearly define the altitudes specified for GA operations.
With this change, general aviation now has the opportunity to do in China what it does best: to link people and communities, provide emergency medical and disaster relief services, and significantly contribute to economic vitality,” said Bunce.