ATM Modernization, Business & GA

Q&A: Mike Hewitt: Business Jets Flying with FANS

By David Jensen | June 1, 2005
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On May 24, 2004, the first business jet using future air navigation system (FANS) technology crossed the Atlantic and communicated with air traffic controllers via digital messaging. The aircraft was a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), and the flight–from Gary, Indiana, to Geneva, Switzerland–was part of a trial being conducted by the FANS Central Monitoring Agency (FCMA). Now more FANS-equipped BBJs are in operation. Mike Hewett, Boeing’s chief pilot for the BBJ, talks about those aircraft and the FANS training program he developed, among other related topics. A 22-year veteran with Boeing, Hewett began with the company as a production test pilot. He is type rated on the 737, 757, 747-400 and 777, as well as the Lockheed L-1011. He also is one of Boeing’s chase pilots licensed to fly the venerable F-86 Sabre and the T-38 Talon. Hewett joined Boeing Business Jets in 1998 as chief engineering test pilot.

Avionics: First, how are sales of BBJs going?

Hewett: We’re rapidly approaching the 100 mark. We have 97 aircraft on our order book.

Avionics: Give us a history of FANS on the BBJ.

Hewett: When I was involved in the design phase of our NavLink System, which was an after-delivery STC [supplemental type certificate] that provides data link capability to BBJ/737 aircraft, I asked Smiths Industries and Teledyne Controls to make sure that their systems [flight management computer and data link system, respectively] were able to be upgraded to FANS-1 capability easily and affordably.

I knew FANS was moving quickly from phase 1 to phase 3 trials in the Atlantic and expanding full-up, operational in the Pacific arena. I wanted the BBJ to be the first 737 operational with FANS and the first business aircraft to have it available.

In 2003 we had an upgrade to the Smith’s FMC [flight management computer] software for all 737 aircraft, and it provided the opportunity to implement the required software and message sets to make FANS available for the 737 and BBJ.

Boeing Executive Flight Operations was the first customer to purchase the FANS option for its BBJ. The system’s inaugural use was on a flight from the United States to Geneva last year. It was the first Atlantic FANS CPDLC [controller pilot data link communications] flight for a business jet.

Avionics: What can you say about BBJ participation in the Atlantic FANS trials?

Hewett: With BBJ we went full-up with phase 3, which is full-up CPDLC over the Atlantic. [BBJ operators] are participants in the Atlantic trials. There are now a thousand FANS flights a day across the Atlantic; 99 percent of them are by airliners, and then there is the Boeing Business Jet.

Avionics: Was the STC process routine?

Hewett: Yes, it was like any other avionics certification program. We developed [the FANS package] in the labs and tested it and submitted a certification plan to the FAA’s Part 125 people and then flew a series of test flights. It was a natural progression for us to put FANS in the BBJ.

Avionics: Is FANS-1 now a basic feature on all Boeing aircraft?

Hewett: It is available, but not basic. Only on the BBJ will it be basic.

Avionics: How many BBJ customers have requested FANS equipment?

Hewett: Eleven customers have ordered FANS for 15 BBJs. Thirteen BBJs are now equipped and operating in the FANS-1 Atlantic and Pacific airspace. More are to follow at a rate of about one per month.

Avionics: Is it correct to call the FANS avionics a factory-installed option?

Hewett: Not until 2006, when FANS will be standard equipment on all green BBJs. We install the system as an STC after delivery at the moment.

Avionics: What FANS equipment has to be added to a standard BBJ?

Hewett: A software upgrade to the FMC and data link box and, for some, a new FMC CDU [control display unit] faceplate and a simple wire run that provides the required aural chime and ATC [air traffic control] alert on the forward display.

Avionics: Is there a FANS package?

Hewett: The customer is responsible to provide a satcom system during the interior completion process. Other than that, all other component requirements are part of the NavLink/FANS package. The standard option includes Teledyne’s TeleLink data link system.

Avionics: Describe the NavLink system.

Hewett: Every BBJ, with the exception of some of the first ones, has our NavLink system. With it you have the basis for FANS.

The system is to meet the requirements for oceanic operations. We have dual FMS with GPS in the 737 [which shares the same airframe as the BBJ], but we found that our BBJ customers wanted more than two flight computers [because] if an aircraft loses an FMC, it must depart RVSM [reduced vertical separation minimum] airspace.

We have two CDUs in the aircraft, and we found that each has the processing power to serve as a backup nav computer. So now, with NavLink, if a pilot loses an FMC, he has not two, but three backup systems and can still fly into RVSM airspace.

Avionics: How much does it cost to equip a NavLink BBJ with FANS?

Hewett: It’s about $46,000.

Avionics: What AOC service is used?

Hewett: The customers have their choice; however, most use Universal [Weather and Aviation Inc.] as their data link provider.

Avionics: What about message sets?

Hewett: They have the full message set over the Pacific and Atlantic; however, the Atlantic trials currently don’t use them all.

Avionics: What about assuring required navigation performance (RNP) for FANS?

Hewett: The basic 737 was the first aircraft to have the capability to calculate ANP [actual navigation performance] and display it along with RNP at all times. The combination of the superior navigation logic of the Smith’s FMS, combined with dual GPS and dual scanning DMEs, can provide ANPs as low as 0.05 nm. This was developed for Alaska Airlines, which now shoots self-contained V-nav [vertical navigation] approaches into the Gastineau Channel at Juneau airport to 360 feet [minimum]. The prior minimums were over 1,200 feet because of the mountainous terrain–with peaks at 10,000 feet plus–around the airport. The RNP for this approach is 0.2 nm.

Avionics: How do pilots become approved for FANS?

Hewett: There was no formal approval process in place for Part 91 operators for the North Atlantic [NAT] trials. I went to the director of FCMA and requested their help. They’ve been extremely helpful. They had no idea at the time that business aircraft had FANS capability. I brought them up to speed on the BBJ, and we worked out a plan.

Presently each airline that participates in the Atlantic trials has a focal [point] that represents the airline concerning training, operational issues and crew procedural problems, and communicates with FCMA directly. This focal also participates in scheduled telephone conferences, updating FANS operations in the Atlantic and problem areas.

FCMA agreed that, as chief pilot for Boeing Business Jets, I would be the focal for the BBJ fleet. I set up training and actual hands-on testing, including a simulated oceanic flight. I go to the customers to provide instruction. We [with students] log into a NavCanada simulation, while parked on the ground, using the actual data link and FMC in the aircraft. This gives the system a good functional check-out, and the crews receive hands-on training. Prior to this, the flight crews complete Boeing-prepared FANS training on CD and familiarize themselves with the appropriate Pacific and Atlantic FANS operations manuals.

On the day of the simulation I hold a classroom-style session, where I point out the important areas in the manuals that need to be understood. I also go over the appropriate pilot-to-controller voice communications, as well as procedural differences between operations in the Atlantic and the Pacific. I then submit their registration numbers to the FCMA for inclusion in their FANS aircraft database.

Avionics: Is approval for FANS operations over the Pacific comparable?

Hewett: As far as Pacific operations approval, each BBJ operator is expected to be familiar with Pacific procedures and trained in the equipment certified in their aircraft. They then file the correct ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] flight plan, indicating that they are FANS data link-capable.

So far, the crews have been extremely eager to learn and do it right, and have performed without error in their oceanic FANS flights.

Avionics: Has Boeing conducted studies to determine savings for VIP/corporate operators from FANS?

Hewett: We have not yet conducted these types of studies for BBJ operators. However, we do see significant benefits in pilot work load and stress level reduction due to the ability to more quickly execute an altitude change request and/or receive approval for weather-related deviations. All this makes the boss in the back happy, which makes the pilots happy. So far those that have it, use it and love it.

Avionics: What would be the main benefit of FANS to a VIP/corporate operator?

Hewett: In the Atlantic at the moment the primary advantage of FANS is CPDLC–the ability to communicate with air traffic control without having to use HF voice.

The HF network is overloaded, not reliable and slow to respond to the immediate and urgent action required by either the pilot or the controller in the oceanic environment. With ADS [automatic dependent surveillance, which uses data link to communicate positioning] the aircraft’s position is more accurately known by ATC and provides an increased level of comfort to the controller and to the pilots that the appropriate aircraft separation is being maintained.

Not necessarily today, but in the near future, better routing will be a primary advantage because the ability to reduce aircraft separation will be available to FANS-equipped aircraft.

Avionics: Over the Pacific, too?

Hewett: In the Pacific, particularly in the Australian airspace, there are special routes that are only usable by FANS aircraft.

Avionics: Is over-ocean flying the main reason BBJ customers choose FANS?

Hewett: I find BBJ operators are always looking for a better way to give their owners a safer and more pleasant flight experience. At the moment, with a few exceptions in Australia and Europe, FANS is mostly oceanic. I would imagine that for my customers oceanic flight is its primary use.

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