[Avionics Today June 6, 2014] Within the next 10-20 years, aerospace technology is going to evolve even more than it has during the first century of commercial aviation which is being commemorated in 2014, according to a speech given by Honeywell Aerospace Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, Carl Esposito, during the 2014 RTCA Global Aviation Symposium.
Avionics Magazine caught up with Esposito following his speech about the future of aerospace technology, from unmanned systems to software based cockpit avionics systems upgrades and increased access to aircraft data for trend monitoring. The head of the product marketing division for the $12 billion company is definitely excited about what's in store for the market over the next decade.
"The next 10-25 years is going to be incredible, its really a remarkable time to be in the industry," said Esposito.
Honeywell Primus Apex avionics functionality enable wireless software uploading of navigational databases on the Pilatus PC-12 NG. Photo, courtesy of Pilatus.
Avionics upgrades over the last two decades were mainly hardware-based, with engineers swapping out old boxes for new ones and rewiring cockpits to configure them with the latest technology. However, that is no longer the case and certainly will not be in the future according to the Honeywell executive.
Software upgrades will be the key enabler in terms of avionics functionality in the future, especially as airlines continue to deal with profit margins that are projected to be just over 2 percent of revenues this year by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The cost of retrofitting an entire fleet with new hardware can be offset with software retrofits for various avionics components such as "synthetic vision, enhanced navigation and data link that become software applications and software upgrades as opposed to the old days of changing out hardware boxes and rewiring the aircraft," Esposito said. Communication, navigation and Flight Management Systems (FMS) upgrades will also be software based in the near future, which is a capability that many avionics manufacturers are already doing.
One example of this ability that will continue into the future is the software upgradability function that Honeywell introduced for the Pilatus PC-12 NG, which features the ability for wireless software updates to onboard avionics systems.
"In the future it will be able to be done wirelessly, and we're starting down that path," said Esposito. "We're today offering on the Pilatus PC-12 NG, wireless navigation database uploading so the mechanic can use an iPad on the ground and wirelessly transmit that navigation database update to the aircraft, confirm it on the aircraft and load it into the avionics system."
Currently the ARINC Software Data Loader (SDL) Subcommittee is developing and updating existing standards for high speed software data loading and high density storage media for the interfaces between software data loaders and the target hardware. The group's next meeting in August will focus on ARINC Project Paper 641, addressing the obsolescence of physical media--mainly floppy disks--to provide guidance to the industry on software storage, distribution and data loading of loadable software parst as media agnostic entities.
This will provide standards for the type software upgrading functions in the future that Honeywell and others are developing.
The concept of aircraft connectivity today is most closely associated with in-flight access to wireless Internet for commercial and business jet passengers.
However, over the next decade avionics manufacturers are going to start taking more advantage of increasingly available broadband and satellite communications systems onboard aircraft. These technologies will be used to provide faster sharing of aircraft data with ground-based airline engineering teams for trend monitoring and other activities. Modern aircraft can generate terabytes of data per flight, a trend that will continue to grow in volume into the future. For example, Boeing engineers report that nearly 146,000 parameters of flight data can be collected from the 787.
Today, the technology used to capture that data and share it with operational and maintenance teams is limited, and often data can become "trapped" on the aircraft, according to Esposito.
"That data either exists and gets stored or it just doesn't get stored and goes away and its really lost information in terms of improving the maintenance and the trend monitoring of the aircraft," said Esposito. "Today, the only way to get that volume of information off the aircraft is mostly through the use of manual operations, because the aircraft basically have dial up speed connections today."
But Honeywell is working on products that will greatly enhance that transfer speed, Esposito said.
"With the advent of broadband and higher speed satcom systems we're getting into the 432 KPBS range that are available today and in the future with things like GX Aviation, the 40-50 MBPS types of speeds, or some of the air to ground systems with very high speed connectivity give us the ability to get massive amounts of data to be able to do analytics from a safety and maintainability perspective, and have the aircraft share that information as well," said Esposito.
Commercial Unmanned Systems
The future of aviation technology cannot be discussed without mentioning Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). While the United States continues to draft new airspace rules and technology certifications for the commercial use of UAS, other nations such as Australia and China are already extensively using them in commercial airspace for wildfire monitoring, precision crop dusting and other uses.
But today the majority of the commercial use of UAS is performed within line of sight, at lower altitudes where the operator can see the aircraft. In order to move beyond that and start using these aircraft for beyond line of sight operations such as aerial cargo transportation, distribution of Wi-Fi connections among other uses, companies such as Honeywell are going to have to develop more robust miniaturized navigation technology that allows the safe and efficient use, especially in airspace shared with manned aircraft.
"We saw what UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] are capable of with our own T Hawk UAV that was used for surveillance operations in the Fukishima nuclear power accident and just being able to actually see what was going on and look inside the building….UAVs being used for those types of missions in very difficult environments and being able to operate successfully there, that just scratches the surface of what I think these are capable of," said Esposito.
The growth of the commercial UAS market reflects the next generation of aviation technology, and it will be interesting to see the new products and concepts that become integrated into aircraft of all forms through 2035.
"I think its going to be a very exciting time in aviation," said Esposito. "I look forward to the next 25 years, which I think are going to be pretty innovative. I think we're going to look back and be proud and happy of what we've been able to create."