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Monday, January 4, 2016

5 Aviation Industry Topics to Watch in 2016

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today 01-04-2016] 2016 is going to be a busy year for the aviation industry in both the commercial and military sectors. Regulators will continue to scramble to keep up with aircraft hardware, software and component product innovation; the airborne use of the Internet will continue to expand and airspace system modernization; and the way airplanes are tracked and managed will continue to improve.
The year can only be looked at based on what occurred last year and major milestones that some of the industry's biggest players have already announced for 2016. Here is a look at five aviation industry topics to watch for in the coming year.
Full scale engineering mock up of Aerion's AS2 supersonic business jet. Photo: Aerion.
Aviation Cyber Security
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), airlines, Air Traffic Controller (ATC) organization and aviation regulatory officials are well aware of the realistic threats that exist in the realm of cyber security. This issue is more important than ever, as the industry's largest companies continue to introduce innovative ways for both passengers and pilots to use connectivity onboard today's aircraft. 
Every avionics box, new patch of software, and related items that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) deemed to be at major risk to possible nefarious intrusion in its 2014 report, must pass rigorous inspection and evaluation by the FAA in the U.S. and by the European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) in Europe before being operated on commercial, military or business aviation flights. 

More must be done, however. Until now, the FAA, for example, has acknowledged that its current regulations do not specifically address Aircraft Systems Information Security Protection (ASISP). Previously, special conditions have been issued whenever current airworthiness regulations do not contain adequate or appropriate safety standards for certain unusual design features, such as the expanded use of Ethernet on the A350, Boeing 787, and other new generation aircraft coming into service. To address this issue, the FAA has tasked its Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) with developing new recommendations specifically addressing ASISP certification and continued airworthiness on airplanes and aircraft. The ARAC will submit its recommendations to the FAA for review later this year. 


In 2016, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) estimates there will be 3.8 billion passengers traveling on commercial aircraft. That's an average of 70 aircraft departing every minute all over the globe. Considering demand will continue to increase for both passenger and operational aircraft Internet usage, bandwidth and the capacity necessary to facilitate and manage Internet traffic for all those aircraft is an issue. 

So much of an issue, in fact, that Delta Airlines in the last month of 2015 submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking the completion of the agency's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to expand access to and encourage innovation in broadband access aboard aircraft. 

"As discussed in its previously filed ex parte comments, Delta is eager for the FCC to move forward with completion of this rulemaking and the provision of [Air-to-Ground] ATG Service in the 14.0 to 14.5 GHz band," Jenner & Block LLP, a firm representing Delta, wrote in a letter submitted to the FCC last month. 

Delta operates the industry's largest fleet of Gogo-equipped aircraft, and notes in its letter that "current bandwidth demands will soon exceed Gogo's terrestrial network capacity." The airline also added that the additional spectrum could lead to increased aircraft safety and efficiency by allowing the "development of better weather tracking, more robust monitoring of flight systems, and better situational awareness for flight control systems.” 

Delta and other airlines are going to continue to see more ATG and satellite-based connectivity options becoming available, too, as Inmarsat, Iridium, Panasonic, SmartSky, SITA and others continue to work with major OEMs to introduce and expand the capabilities of aircraft Internet solutions. Competition to prove which company has the best bandwidth available for the long term will take center stage in 2016.


There are still more than 100,000 general aviation aircraft that need to be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) prior to the Jan. 1, 2020 airspace mandate, according to the latest FAA estimate on equipage rates. Airlines and business jet operators such as Delta and Net Jets also still have legacy aircraft flying in their fleets that need to be upgraded. What solutions will operators choose? Will there be enough equipment, FAA inspectors, facilities and workers to equip all the aircraft that need ADS-B upgrades before 2020? In this respect, 2016 could turn out to be “The Year of the Upgrade.”

First Commercial Flights

Several aircraft are scheduled to perform their maiden flights in 2016, including the most anticipated first flight of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) C919 airliner. COMAC rolled the first flight test C919 prototype — built with extensive support from western suppliers — out of its factory in November 2015 and will use a fleet of eight aircraft for the C919 flight-testing program. The aircraft has a design capacity for between 158 and 174 seats. 

Boeing test pilots are expected to fly the 737 MAX, the re-engined version of the 737, for the first time in 2016. The first Boeing 737 MAX prototype rolled out of Boeing's Renton, Wa., factory in December 2015. Southwest Airlines is the launch customer for the 737 MAX and is expected to take delivery of the aircraft in 2017, nearly 50 years after the first 737 was introduced to the industry. 

Regarding aircraft entering commercial service for the first time, Lufthansa will fly the Airbus A320NEO, and SWISS Airlines will begin flying the Bombardier C Series aircraft for the first time this year as well.

SuperSonic Business Jet?

Flexjet became the launch customer of Aerion's AS2 aircraft, which will become the first commercially available business jet capable of flying faster than the speed of sound. 

Aerion CEO Doug Nichols has indicated that the company will select the aircraft's propulsion system in the first half of 2016 and formally launch the AS2 program shortly thereafter. Throughout 2016 Aerion will continue its major collaboration with Airbus on the engineering of the AS2's digital fly-by-wire flight control system, integrated fuel system and landing gear. 

If there are any topics you would like to see us cover more this year, email me at wbellamy@accessintel.com, or find me on Twitter @WBellamyIIIAC.

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