ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Perspectives: A Time for Cooperation

By Roger Goldberg | January 1, 2003
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There are times to be competitive and times to be cooperative. When it comes to aviation efficiency and safety, cooperation works best. Cooperation can save money, and in today’s economic environment, the air transport industry seeks all the cost savings it can find.

One venue in which the airline community works in partnership to improve avionics maintenance and thus enhance safety and efficiency is the annual Avionics Maintenance Conference (AMC). One of four industry activities sponsored by Aeronautical Radio Inc. (ARINC), AMC began in 1949, when 12 airline maintenance engineers decided to establish a forum to discuss tough avionics maintenance problems–many involving the poor reliability of the vacuum tubes used at the time. Today, hundreds of avionics maintenance professionals attend the event, and the topics of discussion have evolved from vacuum tubes to microprocessor technology.

By developing cost-efficient technical solutions to industry-wide maintenance issues, ARINC estimates that the worldwide airline industry has saved more than $300 million over the past five years. Based on this experience, the airlines estimate that future AMCs will save the industry between $50 million and $100 million annually.

The airlines also have learned to assume that an issue discussed at AMC will achieve a resolution 50 percent faster than if it were not discussed in such a forum. How is this so?

Bringing avionics maintenance issues to light stimulates a collective effort to resolve them, for everyone’s benefit. Many issues are resolved at AMC; others may require further research and/or test for resolution at a future AMC. The topics and resolutions can be varied. For example, a vendor, upon learning of an issue with his product, may develop a solution and present it to the AMC. Or one airline may learn how another airline resolves an issue. Some 275 to 350 avionics maintenance issues (referred to as questions) are submittted by the airlines and vendors prior to AMC for discussion at the event. In addition to discussing submitted questions, the AMC also includes a number of technical presentations on topics of general interest.

A specific example of a question that has been resolved comes from the 2002 AMC in Houston. A major item of discussion was the cathode ray tube (CRT) assembly for the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The vendor had plans to discontinue production of the CRT unit "as early as this year [2002]" and replace it with a liquid-crystal display (LCD) unit. LCDs offer improved performance over CRTs, but their installation can be costly. The airlines voiced their concern over cost, and the vendor responded by agreeing to extend CRT display production until at least December 2004 and ensure a cost-effective supply of display units for the B747-400 beyond that date. Recognizing the depth of the airlines’ concern, the vendor also stressed it would strive to make the upgrade to LCDs (which now come standard in new B747-400s) as cost-effective as possible.

Another major discussion item, aired at the 2001 AMC in San Francisco, addressed the issue of test and tooling equivalency. If a manufacturer recommends special equipment or test apparatus, the airline must use it–or its equivalent. The burden of determining equivalency falls to the airline, not to a regulatory agency or to the manufacturer. As a result of this discussion item, an AMC Working Group was formed to develop industry guidance and publish an ARINC standard that describes how the airlines may successfully demonstrate the equivalence of tooling and test equipment. This standard, which should streamline the equivalency process, is scheduled to be completed at this year’s AMC, April 7-10, in Singapore.

More than 700 attendees from across the globe are expected to gather in Singapore. They will include representatives of more than 60 airlines, at least 200 aviation suppliers, and four aircraft manufacturers. This will be the second AMC held outside North America (the 2000 AMC was in Hamburg), and it will be the first in the Asia-Pacific region. Each AMC has a host airline, and for the 2003 AMC, the host will be Singapore Airlines.

Avionics maintenance issues know no boundaries, and it was appropriate to hold an AMC in the airline industry’s biggest growth region. Measured by revenue, seven of the top 25 airlines are based in the Asia-Pacific region. From 1990 to 2000, scheduled air traffic in the region grew by 7.9 percent annually, and that growth rate is expected to continue above 7 percent through 2004. At the AMC nearly 25 percent of the questions submitted for discussion come from airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region. In the cooperative AMC setting, these airlines learn from their brethren on the opposite side of the world, and vice-versa. For more information about the 2003 AMC, visit

Roger Goldberg is the AMC executive secretary for the ARINC Industry Activities group.

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