Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Boeing.
Large unmanned aircraft avionics need more standardization, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is coming to avionics, and operators are equipping their aircraft with mission specific technologies. These were just some of the lessons we learned over the course of three days, six symposiums and eight technical briefings at last week's 2017 annual Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) and Avionics Maintenance Committee (AMC) general session in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
IPv6 is Coming to Avionics
According to Cisco, IP is designed for use in identifying devices within interconnected systems of packet switched computer communication networks. With more than four billion unique IP addresses, IPv4 is the fourth revision of IP and the most widely deployed IP in use to connect devices to the internet. Cisco notes these IPs were completely allocated to specific geographic regions in 2011.
IPv6 is the next-generation IP designed to replace IPv4 and will allow more users and devices to communicate over the internet by using bigger numbers to create IP addresses. Whereas IPv4 addresses were 32 bits long, IPv6 addresses will be 128 bits long, according to Apple.
While IPv6 will continue to work in harmony with IPv4, the Internet Engineering Task Force first released the working standard for IPv6 in 1998. Like all other industries, aviation is ready to adopt the latest version.
The AEEC executive committee adopted a new activity: the development of an industry roadmap for the use of IPv6 in air-to-ground data communications used by onboard avionics systems. Internet Protocol Suite, which is in development to support the use of commercial-off-the-shelf products to support air-to-ground aeronautical safety services communications, will be based on IPv6. Therefore, the transition from the use of IPv4 in current avionics architectures to IPv6 in the future is important, as noted by Steve Arentz, the retiring principal architect for the IT enterprise architecture at United Airlines and chairman of of the AEEC network infrastructure and security subcommittee.
Large Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Need Standards, Too
While the most popular type of commercially and civilian-operated unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) currently being discussed throughout the aviation industry are those fewer than 55 pounds, performing within-line-of-sight operations, the future could feature a much more advanced type of UAS. One way to enable future operations of such unmanned aerial cargo transportation, large area surveillance and other beyond-line-of-sight UAS operations will be with the use of standardized communications, navigation and surveillance technologies that have allowed commercial aviation operations to continually increase air-traffic volumes in recent decades.
“One of the things I want to stress is this is not just a military thing anymore,” said Brandon Suarez, technical director at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. He noted that the U.S. Air Force and other military units around the world are looking to gain more access to civilian airspace with their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
Suarez also referenced a “consortia” in Europe, the platform for unmanned cargo aircraft that is currently working on conceptualizing a full-scale beyond-line-of-sight operated unmanned aircraft. DLR has also expressed its desire to acquire such a platform for its own aerial cargo operations.
He said he sees the future development of large scale UAS operations taking a three-phased approach: the accommodation phase that we’re basically in now with global regulators; the integration phase in which we have ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPS); and the evolution where the regulation and SARPs enable new operations.
“There’s a lot that our community can learn from the manned community in the way that data links have been developed, standardized and managed over the years,” said Suarez.
Health Monitoring Can Evolve With IoT
During a wireless-data symposium on the third day of the conference, Chicago-based Uptake's Willie Cecil, showed how the current traditional methods used for aircraft health monitoring can evolve in the future with the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) concept.
Cecil, who took over as director of aviation late last year after a number of years at Teledyne Controls, noted that aircraft and engine health monitoring services are currently running on tiny volumes of data transmitted over expensive narrow-band links.
“The contrast between the amount of IoT data generated by the latest aircraft and engine models, and the data actually harvested from them is huge," he said. "While new aircraft may generate many terabytes of data every day, the amount of IoT data harvested in real time is less than half a terabyte, and that’s for an entire year and for all aircraft in the world combined."
According to Cecil, most airlines are sitting on a vault of IoT data 500 to 1,000 times larger than the data their maintenance and operations department receive from the aircraft via real-time data links. This mountain of data has been harvested post-flight primarily for safety and risk-management purposes, but it is often locked up due to airline pilots’ union agreements. The untapped opportunity for airlines lies in freeing up and using this data in new ways that can produce actionable insights that not only improves safety, but also takes productivity and reliability of airline operations to a new level.
He also noted that the avionics industry should not limit its thinking to the current available bandwidth and data costs primarily enabled by ACARS. Cecil predicts that by 2021, bandwidth will increase threefold, and costs can be expected to decrease by an order of magnitude.
“With this in mind, future avionics architectures should be geared for automating more in-flight and post-flight data transfers,” said Cecil. “In-flight and post-flight data transfer of aircraft IoT data using broadband IP data links is one of the keys to enabling airlines to collecting higher data volumes.”
Operators Are Customizing Aircraft With Mission-Specific Avionics
Several avionics manufacturers' displayed technologies and discussions with Avionics showed that operators today are equipping their aircraft with avionics that meet their specific mission types, help increase operational efficiency and reduce weight and fuel burn.
This was evidenced in Icelandair's decision to equip 16 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with Avionica’s satLINK Max Iridium satellite communications system, aviONS onboard network server, avCM 4G cellular device and avSYNC quick access recorder download. Not to be outdone, Viva Aerobus extended the capabilities of its current flight-data acquisition technologies onboard its Airbus A320 fleet with a new flight data analysis service provided by Teledyne. The service collates, analyzes reports and presents information on customizable dashboards.