By Woodrow Bellamy III | June 1, 2015
Similar to the modern standard Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) cockpit setup, where technology from competing suppliers and manufacturers are featured on the same flight deck, the Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) | (Avionics Maintenance Conference) AMC annual general session brings together some of the biggest names in the industry to foster competitiveness and interchangeability on today’s airframes. And, similar to the way competing airlines sometimes code share on certain flight routes and compete on others, the conference brings the airline, the end users of these aircraft and technology, to discuss the challenges they experience while operating and maintaining those airframes.
ARINC characteristics, specifications and reports help define the form, fit and function, and interfaces to avionics equipment and associated networks, physical packaging, data buses and software operating system and electrical interfaces that power flights on modern aircraft around the world everyday.
What is also interesting to witness is the way in which the standardization that evolves and comes out of the subcommittee collaboration leads to standardization of products that enable the Communications, Navigations and Surveillance (CNS) capabilities necessary to move airspace modernization initiatives such as NextGen in the U.S. and the Single European Sky (SES) forward.
“The AEEC member airlines continue to place a high value on the spirit of collaboration and the value of industry decision making. When the airlines move together as one — with Airbus and Boeing alongside — this provides clear guidance to the avionics supplier community and to the regulatory community,” says AEEC Executive Secretary and Program Director for ARINC Industry Activities Paul Prisaznuk.
Both the NextGen and Single European Sky airspace modernization initiatives were focal points of the 2015 AEEC | AMC conference. One of the biggest aspects of both of these programs is the requirement for aircraft to equip with Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) avionics. This upcoming requirement is much more than just a mandate, something that was made evident at the conference. Aircraft broadcasting their positions in a networked environment represents a fundamental change in Air Traffic Controllers’ (ATC) primary toolset for separating aircraft. By self reporting their GPS position, pilots with ADS-B In will be able to see the entire air traffic picture of the airspace that surrounds them, and the concept of operations for Air Traffic Management (ATM) no longer depends on controllers from a central location watching radar scopes. But along with fundamental change, comes fundamental challenges. That’s where the type of collaboration between airframe manufacturers, avionics suppliers and airline engineers at AEEC | AMC becomes increasingly important, as both NextGen and Single European Sky enter their deployment phase.
“The U.S. and European mandate to fit aircraft with ADS-B equipment before January 2020 continues to be on the forefront of the airline interests and concerns,” says Prisaznuk. “The ADS-B mandate will require a new Mode S Transponder compliant with [Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics] RTCA DO-260B. It will also require a highly accurate GNSS position source, and status indications to the flight deck crew. Some aircraft will require changes to aircraft wiring harnesses. The adoption of Supplement 2 to ARINC Characteristic 735B: Traffic Computer, [Traffic Collision Avoidance System] TCAS and ADS-B Functionality, will ensure that the suppliers have the information necessary to build equipment compliant with ARINC and RTCA Standards.”
Flight deck avionics suppliers, such as Thomas Global Systems, benefit from the great networking platform that the AEEC | AMC conference provides for topics such as NextGen and Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) equipage. “The impact of new technology, NextGen and ADS-B mandates were very key topics of importance at this year’s conference,” says Thomas Global Systems CEO Angus Hutchinson. “OEMs are focusing on the new technologies, while becoming less focused on legacy systems. That’s why we are committed to taking up the challenge to support and sustain legacy avionics, of which the critical obsolescence element is the CRT display. The TFD-7000 Series is built on our Adaptable Display Architecture (TADA) and is designed as a growth platform through expandability. Among TADA’s features are ARINC 429 interfaces and card expansion slots, meaning that the new TFD-7000 Series displays are capable of displaying or handling additional information related to new technologies such as ADS-B or [Required Navigation Performance] RNP.”
Another huge topic that will continue to be a challenge for the industry is the shift from voice to data link communications in both programs. During the conference, Avionica announced a new Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the installation of its satLINK MAX ATC voice and data qualified Iridium satellite-based communications unit for the Boeing 737 NextGen (NG) aircraft. The satLINK MAX enables data link communications, including for operators looking to fly within the optimal routes between the United States and Europe. “As the first to achieve [Future Air Navigation System] FANS-1/A safety service certification on air transport aircraft, satLINK MAX is poised to fill in the FANS-1/A communications requirement for all North Atlantic operators,” says Anthony Rios, vice president of sales at Avionica. “Beyond the airlines, this would include business jet operators, which total more than 6,000 aircraft worldwide.”
Many of the world’s biggest airlines have invested millions in avionics that enable Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC), however not all of them are seeing the benefits from that investment yet. The most notable example of this is the five-year program delay in Europe, resulting from service provider aborts from the use of VHF Data Link (VDL) Mode 2.
Standardizing the Industry
Fifteen new ARINC standards were considered for adoption at this year’s conference. Among those currently being circulated prior to adoption, which could have some major impact in the digitized networked architecture of aircraft going forward, is the Draft 1 of Supplement 1 to ARINC Specification 653. This provides a definition for multi-core services, enabling avionics suppliers to use multi core processors on avionics computing platforms. While today’s avionics computers use single-core processors, ARINC 653 supports dual core, quad core and multi core solutions to allow the processor for an avionics Central Processing Unit (CPU) to work on more than one task at a time, a capability that has become standard in the Personal Computer (PC) environment.
ARINC 825 Supplement 3 is also currently being circulated prior to adoption, as the supplement looks to expand the general standardization of the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus protocol for airborne usage. “A primary focus of Supplement 3 is to increase the long-term usability of CAN bus in complex avionics installations by addressing specific feedback provided by industry,” says Thomas Joseph, platform and computing systems applications engineer at GE Aviation, and chairman of the CAN working group. “A key addition to the ARINC 825 specification in Supplement 3 is the introduction of the directed message channel protocol intended to increase network interoperability by using targeted messaging and dialogs through the use of unique node addressing and port definitions. The use of the directed message channel protocol, or the legacy data upload and data download services under the node services channel protocol for software data loading, is left up to the system integrator.”
As most avionics engineers know, the use of CAN bus in aviation was borrowed from what originally began in the automotive industry to provide connectivity for engine control units and fuel control units originally on high-end cars, such as Mercedes Benz and BMW — now, it has become standard on nearly every new car. According to AMC Chairman and Program Manager at KLM Engineering and Maintenance Marijan Jozic, that same type of shift has occurred with aviation, with the use of CAN Bus on modern airframes, such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 among others.
“In new aircraft types 787, A380 and A350 CAN bus is the new norm. People who are working on those kind of aircraft must be trained to learn how to use the new CAN bus,” Jozic says. “I have sent all my technicians for a one day course on CAN bus. The course is actually given by instructor hired from a car manufacturer.”