As planes rise in nations that have never before flown before, choruses of new regional markets have created a collective developmental jolt. Meanwhile, mature markets are witnessing a simultaneous shift in testing paradigms, with more on the horizon due to growing popularity of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and impending aircraft tracking recommendations.
As avionics manufacturer Cobham preps to absorb well-established testing company Aeroflex, Director of the Avionics Business Unit Guy Hill says that he has already witnessed significant new market activity beyond the United States and Europe. “There’s a lot of growth in China and India,” Hill says. “We’re putting in a lot of work to support those areas.”
AIM, a European- and U.S.-winged commercial testing company, has seen enough demand in Brazil to warrant a regional distribution partnership, and its Sales and Marketing Director Douglas Ullah says he has seen growth in South America and Asia due to large-scale investments in commercial aircraft manufacturing and military transponders.
Nationally, Astronics Test Systems President James Mulato says Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and primes like Rockwell Collins, Thales, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing are shifting focus away from in-house manufacturing testing toward software and intellectual property initiatives. The fallout from this shift is a greater need for integrated systems. Astronics Corporation subsidiary Ballard Technology’s Sales VP Bill Schuh says that overall shift has created a greater way to vet those new systems. While some larger companies are shifting away from traditional testing, however, lower-cost rental test equipment provider AvionTEq’s CEO Fred Bostani says that hardware testing demand is surfacing for the first time in third world and developing nations in Africa and Asia. Early-stage development testing company TechSAT is also seeing significant growth in China, with South Korea and Russia close behind, and business discussions beginning in India, all motivated by what TechSAT Managing Director Bruno Schlect describes as a desire to “catch up” to Western markets.
Though serving different markets, these five testing companies are at the heart of these new and established market changes. Avionics reports the changes these companies are witnessing in the testing market now:
Aeroflex designs test equipment that helps commercial and defense companies get new avionics certified. Hill says a chief objective is supporting customers through the certification process and Aeroflex is primarily making integration, verification and qualification environment platforms, as well as production testers, and software applications and utilities for OEMs and airlines worldwide.
Cobham is expected to acquire Aeroflex this fall, meaning that Aeroflex’s development testing will soon be available alongside Cobham’s own test equipment. But currently voted most popular by measure of sales at Aeroflex are: the ATEC Series 6 Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) for Terrain Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), transponders and navigation, and communication systems. The ATEC line sells in cooperation with Cassidian, with Aeroflex contributing the Radio Frequency (RF) expansion module integral to the system that has been popular worldwide.
Aeroflex is capable of early-development testing for OEMs, and Hill says this continues to happen quite often. Avionics ATE Product Manager Jeff Coltvet says Aeroflex is currently handling some development-process testing projects, and with worldwide support and repairs happening everywhere from Singapore and China to Kansas, Hill and Coltvet feel two of Aeroflex’s best qualities are stability and exactitude, even in new markets. “We try to figure out exactly what it is they’re trying to accomplish and go from there,” Hill says.
|AvionTEq technician testing the aircraft navigation and communication system. Photo courtesy of AvionTEq|
Although AIM targets the whole of the avionics test market, its forte is the commercial and defense sectors, where communications, databus and network standards testing are the biggest areas of operation. AIM has a track record of supporting highly involved, decades-long projects, and Ullah says this experience has led to know-how when it comes to addressing product obsolescence issues for organizations worldwide.
According to Ullah, however, that doesn’t mean AIM only does highly involved projects. They can provide test and simulation or embedded interfaces to customers, as well as fully integrated systems solutions — the solutions just depend on how much involvement the customer wants and how complex their needs are. This dichotomy often bridges the differences between new aviation markets and more mature ones with complex, changing needs.
“In particular, the ability to handle multiple bus protocols within one test tool, such as our PBA.pro test and analysis software … sets us apart in the [global] market,” Ullah says. “It also allows us to address market demands for databus bridging applications.”
AIM has been known to build customized test solutions as well on a scalable, modular basis. “We offer as little or as much of the solution to the customer, depending on their needs,” says Ullah.
Test and simulation cards sell fast and frequently at AIM, but demand for Aircraft Ground Equipment (AGE) for Eurofighters, Typhoons and customized systems has been on the rise. Over the next two to three years, Ullah says AIM plans to update its current Avionics Full-Duplex Switched Ethernet (AFDX) ARINC 664 P7 line and respond to rising demand for smaller footprint interface modules.
“Increasing popularity of tablet-based platforms for highly portable and light equipment will challenge the development of corresponding products [to] … support established avionics databus and network standards,” Ullah says. And AIM plans to keep abreast of that trend.
Brandishing experience and market reach gained from a position as a former Airbus Group Inc./EADS North America company, Astronics Corporation subsidiaries Astronics Test Systems and Astronics Ballard Technology specialize in customizing solutions for mission critical and complex systems.
“We test jet engines, we test radios, entertainment systems [which] would be testing audio and video … Head-Up Displays [HUD] … semiconductors,” says Astronics President James Mulato. “We come into play when the system being tested absolutely has to work every time — where the cost of failure would be catastrophic,” says Mulato.
This expertise in mission critical systems is especially important for defense environments, where sister companies Astronics Test Systems and Ballard Technology balance each other out, with Astronics serving a 60 percent commercial, 40 percent military market, and Ballard an inverse 60 percent military, 40 percent commercial base. Across the board, their most popular products are production test systems and databus software and instrumentation.
Astronics Test Systems is also beginning to target the General Aviation (GA) market. “It’s a growing market that, with the explosion of all the sensors and electronics and more complex systems, we see as a market that can really benefit from our expertise in providing custom solutions,” Mulato says.
Schuh shares Mulato’s belief that there will be a significant increase in the total number of planes flying globally over the next 25 years, and the two have a special vision for how their companies can each fit into those more crowded skies.
“Our thought is that we need not to just address our traditional military market but … [remain in position to], as complex circuitry, data, big data, the Internet of Things [develop], be in the best position to integrate,” Mulato says.
AvionTEq approaches test equipment from a totally different angle than any other test equipment manufacturer: with rentals. Fred Bostani started the company as an FAA-certified repair station and while looking for equipment, realized a gaping hole in the market. “There [was] a need for a company to be primarily focused on test equipment and helping repair stations of any size,” Bostani says. “Finding good, used [equipment] wasn’t very easy.”
AvionTEq has changed that, and caters to facilities that work on aircraft or individual components, small avionics shops found at new airports in developing nations, and also larger organizations, including the U.S. Air Force, TAP Portugal, Delta and Virgin America. AvionTEq’s testing inventory and services range from pitot-static and radar to Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), weighing systems and calibration, repair and asset services. Transponder, navigations and communications (NavComm), and radio and air data tests are AvionTEq’s most popular products and services, but Bostani predicts Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) related testers will be in highest demand in the near future due to the NextGen mandate that requires nearly all operating aircraft be ADS-B equipped with the technology in order to continue flying by Jan. 1, 2020.
Bostani says his chief goal is to be able to serve as a comprehensive one-stop-provider for testing equipment. Even if clients need help keeping track of calibration and location of equipment, of data, he says AvionTEq can help. AvionTEq does that through MyTEq, an interface available on mobile and web that tracks each device a company owns or is renting, with location, name of the person possessing a piece of equipment, their contact info, calibration status and any other data displayed for the user from any location. This easy-to-use tool is especially helpful for fast-growing and smaller shops like the ones AvionTEq is already working with in Nigeria, South Africa and Asia.
The development-testing focused TechSAT has the unique goal of making in-flight navigation component testing possible. Rather than testing products already in production, TechSAT is best at “hardware-in-the-loop” development, from verification and qualification to integration. Bruno Schlect says TechSAT is currently heavily investing in ways to create more flexible and scalable testing systems for products in early development.
While the Germany-based test company works primarily with commercial companies — having recently completed the entire hardware loop testing and wiring and cabin testing for the Airbus A350 — their approach to testing helps reduce risk for company making avionics systems. As TechSAT’s Head of Systems Development Bernd Mattner explains, development-stage verification means companies can avoid late-stage retooling and project restarts after significant resources have already been invested.
Over the next two years, Mattner says the focus at TechSAT will increasingly be on mobile-based and navigation testing. Currently, TechSAT is supporting customers primarily with ADS-B, Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) and other common testing solutions. Ground Based Augmentation Systems (GBAS), high frequency device integration and new dataloaders validated by Airbus are also among TechSAT’s newer technologies. Mattner explains that by infusing more scalability and portability into these products, TechSAT can help manufacturers achieve faster development speeds.
“We are focusing on model-based learning, sizing down the solutions to smaller systems where you can use our platform as a middle layer for testing models and software in the early development stage,” he says.
Consulting in emerging markets is another area of expertise for TechSAT, where development support is the key to success for new and developing markets. Schlect says TechSAT’s capability to test early-development systems can help prevent line failures for both new and established manufacturers. “The earlier you can try and test, the less is your risk in order to meet time and quality [requirements],” Schlect says.
Companies are making all sorts of new products to test future systems. There’s Aeroflex’s new transponder test set, with software-defined radio technology to test mode A, C and S transponders. AIM is focusing on digital video applications and Ethernet testing with the new 4GFC fiber channel ARINC 818 tester and the ANET family of bus interfaces and analyzers, while Astronics Test Systems’ T940 digital subsystem is what Mulato calls a “parallel digital product,” because it can execute legacy test program sets as well as newer electronic commercial applications. TechSAT just completed a new line of Airbus-validated dataloaders and AvionTEq is focused on buying up ADS-B testers to ensure all aircraft will be safe to fly in an ADS-B environment.
This oncoming crush of new technologies, and the countless others to follow as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), come dangerously close to saturating world air space. Regulatory bodies developing tracking solution recommendations for aircraft are where established aviation markets set examples for the new ones trying to catch up.
But the trend setting goes both ways, as these testing companies have already shown. With aviation in the heat of upgrades motivated by the traditional trio of next generation mandates, fleet replacements, and defense conflicts, there’s a new major driver: emerging markets. As mutual growth intensifies, it’s time to set safety examples by starting at the beginning — with testing, ensuring that everything in the skies is fit to fly, every time.
Chelsea Bryanis a freelance aerospace journalist and former junior editor of Avionics Magazine and Aviation Today. She writes both in-depth and shorter investigative industry news, and you can follow her stories as they develop at @blackandbluept2.