Avionics 99 Highlights

By Kimberly Shepherd | December 1, 1999
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CFIT, TCAS, ADS-B and, of course, Free Flight were some of the more widely used buzzwords heard at the Oct. 26-28 Avionics 99 conference at Bellevue, Wash. Manufacturers are engineering the means to prevent aircraft disasters, but they stress, regulators must step in to require equipment that will make aircraft safer.

"Everybody’s talking about this, but nobody’s doing anything about it," Don Bateman, chief engineer at AlliedSignal announced to an early morning crowd attending the AlliedSignal breakfast. He emphasized the need to raise the technical standards of equipment used to prevent controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). "Unfortunately, we need a loss of life to sort of drive this whole thing," he said. With three versions of its Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), AlliedSignal is a pioneer of systems that prevent CFIT.

Traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) would be a particular asset in places like Africa and Asia, where equipment to prevent mishaps may be lacking, Bateman said. But, he continued, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other regulatory bodies need to step in to make this happen.

"We consider safety the most important thing in our business," said Capt. William "Bill" Watts, Delta Air Lines’ director of flight operations technical support. During his Oct. 26 keynote address, he praised the benefits of the EGPWS system. For airlines, the commitment to purchase costly, new equipment is directly related to the equipment’s ability to add value or improve safety, he noted.

Watts also stressed the importance of standardization. He speculated that components of the future cockpit will revolve around communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management (CNS/ATM). But will navigation be sole or primary means? Will aircraft have WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) or LAAS (Local Area Augmentation System) capabilities?

There is a consensus to move forward with both WAAS and LAAS, said Michael Harrison, director of architecture and systems engineering for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), during an industry panel session. He noted that safety and capacity are primary drivers of WAAS, although from an economic standpoint, it’s much more affordable to keep Loran, rather than replace ground-based navaids. And so the ground-based Loran system will continue to receive support from the U.S. Department of Transportation and FAA until at least 2008.

For surveillance, Watts said "it’s going to be a question of radar vs. data link." And he noted it’s possible that some roles currently played on the ground will transfer to the cockpit.

Watts speculates that the use of automatic dependent surveillance (ADS) in oceanic and remote geographic areas will vastly increase the level of safety in aviation operations. But automatic dependence surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) will have to prove its ability to provide advanced situational awareness before it can fill the role of TCAS.

The Prospect of Free Flight

Those who travel often know first-hand that delays are already a reoccurring problem. Many experts believe that the concept of Free Flight is the answer.

Challenges abound for the industry. Among them, generating the need for extra capacity, reducing ATM-related costs, and increasing safety are key, said Rudiger Schwenk, manager-air traffic services and international organizations at Lufhansa Airlines, during a panel on the impact of new avionics on Free Flight. However, he pointed out, with increased air traffic, comes an increased safety risk, not to mention capacity limitations posed by airport category.

"At Continental, we believe that Free Flight technologies are absolutely essential to the success of the airline industry," said Jeff Ariens, management pilot at Continental Airlines.

Apparently, we’re closer to Free Flight than some may realize. "We’ve had for some time the basic tools needed for Free Flight," said Robert Lilley, vice president of navigation and communications for Illgen Simulation Technologies Inc., of Goleta, Calif. Although he has his doubts on the prospect of sole-means navigation, since Loran serves as a less-expensive insurance policy.

But the avionics changes required for the successful transition into Free Flight are often "complex and difficult," according to Richard Wurdack, manager of ATC research at Boeing Co. "We have to work the retrofit issue 19 times harder than the new aircraft issue," he explains.

This leads us to the chicken and egg scenario—apparently not a new phenomenon to the industry, as Watts noted—with the provider asking, "when are you going to buy this equipment, so we can build the infrastructure?" While the air carrier wonders, "when will the provider build the infrastructure, so we can buy the equipment?" Again, this is a dilemma that can only be resolved when all stakeholders (airlines, equipment manufacturers and regulators) work together towards a joint solution.

As the industry transitions into the next phase of air travel, Harrison stresses that it is oh so important for aircraft with mixed equippage to be provided with continued regulatory support. "We have an obligation to support that need."

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