Business & GA, Commercial

Q&A: Engine Support, Wirelessly

By Chad Meyers | January 1, 2007
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Honeywell introduced a remote diagnostic system intended to support its TFE731 engine base initially, but also eyed for remote monitoring of other aircraft systems. Dubbed the "Zing Intelligent Monitoring Network," the system will wirelessly transmit data stored in Digital Electronic Engine Controllers (DEECs) when an aircraft lands. In the event of an engine fault or exceedance, Zing will assist in identifying what the issue is, determine its criticality and suggest fixes. Operators can check on current engine status and historical information through a secure Web portal.

At the National Business Aviation Association conference in October, Honeywell said it was conducting field tests on 12 aircraft powered by the TFE731 turbofan and anticipated a first supplemental type certificate in January. Avionics discussed Zing with Chad Meyers, product marketing manager for telematics and diagnostics, with Honeywell Aerospace.

Avionics: What is the status of the Zing program, and what are some of the milestones to be achieved?

Meyers: What we’re looking at is building that service capability that utilizes connectivity of the aircraft, and that can be in various forms depending on the aircraft, the way it is equipped. Initially, we’re starting with the TFE731 engine remote diagnostics. With this connectivity of the aircraft, there are a whole lot of possibilities in remote services. We’re focused on our existing installed base of components, and we have around 12,000 TFE731 engines out in the marketplace. What we’ve designed is a way to make the operator experience of [supporting] that aircraft engine much simpler as well as give them the capabilities to support it even when it is in a remote location, which can be a challenge today as more and more operators are flying to international locations.

Avionics: How does the pilot interact with the system?

Meyers: The interaction with the pilot is initially being able to trigger the wireless download [through a] push-button mechanism. The first system is enabled by a small hardware device that’s located most likely in the rear equipment bay of the aircraft, that connects to our engine controllers, or DEECs, and it becomes an alternative to the manual laptop download process that exists today. It pulls a couple of things from the engine controller. It pulls fault information, so when it does diagnostic checks, events, exceedances, as well as numerical value data of engine parameters are captured at specific points in flight. So it’s a pretty comprehensive look at the engine, and it’s recorded every flight.

Today, on average, our last poll [shows] operators typically download this information about every 18 flights. A component of the engine controller, while it’s running the engine, collects information in a historical [way].

Avionics: Engine diagnostics is just one area. What are other areas that are being considered for the Zing network?

Meyers: We’re still doing a lot of analysis there. I guess the possibilities are endless from the operator’s perspective. There’s different areas that they’ve told us about in terms of dispatch availability, comfort and convenience, security, as well as cost control. As we work through our interviews, we’ll look for various opportunities in those spaces.

Avionics: How does the system complement other diagnostic systems an operator may have? Is it an overlap in any way?

Meyers: For the engines, typically what’s done today is that they have a laptop with a cable that… can acquire information from the engine controller and give them some initial interpretation of that. What we’ve added through the Zing service is, once that information comes off, it’s monitored for those faults, events and exceedances, and once something is detected, it instantly alerts them and sends them either an email or a Blackberry message, as they like.

The system is designed to really provide decision support and diagnostics of what was the problem that occurred, how bad was it, what are the suggested tests and repairs to help me fix that, and what is the specific manual or document of the repair. We’ve also enabled the capability for [operators] to collaborate; once that data is sent to a central place, based on who they’ve allowed us to grant access to, to share with whoever they like to help them resolve the problem, such as Honeywell experts in our customer service arm, as well as potentially a service center.

Avionics: Who will maintain the system?

Meyers: As part of the service we offer to the customer, we will maintain the system on our end, to make sure the manuals are the latest manuals as well as [maintaining] the security aspects of the system.

Avionics: And this will be a subscription-based service?

Meyers: We’re still finalizing that. We’ve got a couple of different approaches that operators have suggested to us…. We’ve really designed it to be a cost effective solution for operators to get some of the capabilities they hear about in the [air-transport] market into the business and general aviation space.

Avionics: What is the time frame for entering service?

Meyers: We’re looking at a mid-2007 time frame for this first TFE731 service.

Avionics: Where did the name Zing come from?

Meyers: It’s really something that came up through some brainstorming efforts. It’s designed to imply the speed and the efficiency of how we’re working. We wanted people to get an idea of how new and exciting this is, so we looked at ways to convey that through our naming and our media tactics.

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