ATM Modernization, Commercial

Editor’s Note: The Issue of Equivalency

By David Jensen | June 1, 2001
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Equivalency – the quality of being "corresponding or virtually identical in effect or function," according to Webster’s Dictionary–is hardly a new term in aviation. It has been applied to many aircraft parts, systems and procedures.

It has been applied to the tools and testing equipment used in aviation, as well. However, in this area, equivalency has taken on new meaning of late. Which is why at this year’s Avionics Maintenance Conference (AMC), held in San Francisco in early April, the AMC steering committee decided to launch the Tool and Testing Equivalency Working Group. A chairman was selected, Jerry Golden of Northwest Airlines, and group members will soon be gathered for the first meeting, in mid-June in Annapolis, Md.

The decision to form an equivalency working group for tools and testing was initiated because of a new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directive issued late last year. The directive’s intent is similar to that of ARINC 625 for test software programs. Except, now it applies to testing hardware. Essentially, the directive shifts the burden of proof as to whether an item is equivalent or not.

Let’s say that an avionics manufacturer recommends the operator use a particular volt meter. But you, the operator, choose to go to your local consumer electronics store to buy a different voltmeter. You tell the FAA that, for the purpose of the testing required, the consumer-store volt meter is equivalent. The onus would be on the FAA to prove that is not.

Now that’s changed. Following the FAA directive, the burden of proof has been shifted to the operator. Now the FAA can demand formal proof. The operator of test equipment must show the agency exactly how they determined the item’s equivalency.

A minor shift of responsibility? Not really. One major airline representative at the AMC claimed that the process of proving equivalency costs his company some $250,000 a year. A fellow attendee extrapolated that figure and determined that tool and test equipment equivalency would cost the top 20 airlines about $50 million over a 10-year period.

And most often, it is not a matter of the operator arbitrarily deciding on a different piece of test equipment. Commonly, with older aircraft, the systems provider no longer produces the test equipment accompanying his system, so the operator is forced to seek an equivalent unit.

What can the new working group do to relieve this costly burden to operators? Largely, it can recommend shifting some of the burden back to the systems manufacturers, who provide accompanying test equipment. In other words, in addition to test gear, the manufacturer would also provide for the operators the test gear’s specifications. Then, years ahead, the operator will have on hand the documentation he needs to show equipment equivalency.

A Growing Event

The new working group was formed at the Avionics Maintenance Conference in the event’s 52nd year.

Perhaps it was the setting, the lovely City by the Bay. And perhaps it is because it drew European airlines and vendors, who were introduced to the event last year in Hamburg, Germany–the first AMC held outside the United States.

Regardless, a record 830 individuals attended, representing 75 airlines and more than 200 airframe manufacturers and aerospace electronics suppliers from 45 countries. Seventy percent of the airlines represented at the 52nd AMC were from outside North America, according to James Pierce, chairman and CEO of ARINC Inc., which sponsors the event.

Also interesting was the influx of regional airline representation–no doubt the result of the rising influence of regional jet travel and of the carriers themselves. Eight regional airlines were at the 52nd Annual AMC, half from outside the United States. And regional aircraft maker Bombardier was at the AMC for the first time.

Avionics Magazine Grows, Too

I’m pleased to announce a new staff member to Avionics Magazine: Charlotte Adams. True, you have no doubt seen her name above articles she has written for this publication since 1994, when she began as a freelance writer. Now she is our senior editor.

A Duke University graduate, Charlotte brings a wealth of technical writing experience to the magazine, having written for or held editor positions with a wide range of aerospace publications, as well as with Federal Computer Week. Most recently, she was editor of the Global Positioning & Navigation News newsletter, which covers the satellite navigation industry.

We welcome Charlotte’s talent and experience, and you can expect to see her name above many more articles in months to come.

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