Bridging the Gap

By Douglas W. Nelms | May 1, 2008
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Canada’s Bombardier is preparing to introduce two new aircraft to the commercial airline industry over the next five years. The airframer will complete its regional jet family with the soon-to-fly CRJ1000 NextGen and make its first foray into the realm of mainline airliners with the planned CSeries 110/130.

The CRJ1000 NextGen, designed to carry 86 to 100 passengers, is scheduled to fly later this year. The twinjet is aimed at upper-end regional airlines that are not restricted by the "scope clause," a provision within airline labor contracts that limits the ability to transfer routes to regional airlines.

The CRJ1000 follows the CRJ900 NextGen, which carries 75 to 90 passengers and entered service in June 2007. The Next Generation family also includes the 66-to-69-seat CRJ700 NextGen, introduced into service this year.

The CSeries 110 and 130, slated to enter service in 2013, would be Bombardier’s incursion into the larger airliner market dominated by Airbus and Boeing. "We don’t really care who is flying the (CSeries) aircraft in the end," said Benjamin Boehm, director, program management office and director of marketing with Bombardier’s New Commercial Aircraft Program. "But the aircraft is clearly designed for the mainline market."

The CSeries program was scaled back for a year between 2006 and 2007. In February this year, Bombardier announced that it will begin offering the CSeries 110 and 130 jetliners for sale, although the aircraft line had not officially been launched. Both the 110-passenger CSeries 110 and 130-passenger CSeries 130 are designed as transcontinental aircraft aimed at replacing aging aircraft such as the MD 80 and DC-9. They also compare in size to the Airbus A318 and A319, or Boeing’s 737-600 and 737-700, but not in range. However, Bombardier contends the CSeries aircraft will be more optimized in terms of weight, fuel burn and airfield performance.

The CRJ1000 NextGen will be equipped with the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 integrated avionics suite used in the CRJ700 and 900 NextGen aircraft, with digital weather radar, Pro Line 21 radios, AHC-4000 super attitude heading reference system, Honeywell Mark V Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), Flight Dynamics HGS 2000 Head-up Guidance System and Rockwell’s TSS-4100 Traffic Surveillance System, which combines TCAS and Mode S transponder.

The front panel will consist of six 6-by-7 inch CRT displays, with the two center displays serving as an Engine Indication and Crew Alert System (EICAS).

The EICAS is based on sensors distributed throughout the aircraft, giving pilots real-time status reports on the engines and hydraulic, fuel and electrical systems. The information supplied includes display of torque, interstage turbine temperature, fan speeds, fuel flow, oil temperature and pressure, and synoptic diagrams of select aircraft systems.

Use of the Pro Line 4 suite across the CRJ family provides commonality on the flight deck, enabling pilots to easily transition between aircraft, the company said.

CSeries Thinking

The avionics supplier for the CSeries aircraft had not been selected as of this writing in March. That decision will not necessarily be based on any plans for commonality between CRJ NextGens and the CSeries, Boehm said.

"The concept (for the CSeries) is finalized, but some things, such as the avionics, are not 100-percent commercially confirmed," Boehm said. "We are in final discussions with all three major suppliers — Rockwell, Thales and Honeywell."

Boehm would not say when a final decision will be made. "Over the next year, you will see more firm drawings," he said, adding, "we should have this discussion again a year from now."

The CSeries team also was in the process of determining which items will be options and which will be standard baseline features, Boehm said. What had been established is that "the aircraft is designed to meet all of the 2013 and beyond navigation standards that we know about, and is even ready for a few that we think will come into effect later in the 2013-2020 timeframe," he said.

"The goal for RNP (Required Navigation Performance) is to have the airplane RNP 0.1 right out of the box," Boehm said. "It will have TCAS to the latest standards as well as ADS-B In and Out to the latest standards. It will be electronic flight bag-capable. It will be CAT III autoland capable. It will have capabilities for both single and dual head-up displays. We are now entering into more formal discussions with customers who will have a say in what becomes optional and what becomes baseline."

The aircraft also will have an integrated flight management system (FMS) and Cockpit Display Unit (CDU), although the CDU will be separate of the FMS and integrated with the primary displays rather than attached directly to the FMS.

"Picture the old traditional cockpit, where you have the little keyboard for programming the FMS, then you have the small screen right above it," Boehm said.

"In the case of this airplane, as you’re typing, you’re actually typing onto one of the screens in front of the pilot. It’s integrated into the system and you’re using one of the big screens."

Current plans are for the cockpit to have four 11-by-14 inch displays on the forward console. However, Bombardier also was considering whether or not to go with five 10-by-12 inch displays.

"That trade is not driven by any avionics manufacturer issues. It’s a decision that has reliability and human factors tradeoffs," Boehm said.

The navigation system will be programmed for GPS augmentations, the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS), depending on what is required.

"What we’re struggling with as an OEM is waiting for the FAA to say what the final LAAS and WAAS standards will be," Boehm said. "But we’re building the capability into the aircraft from a navigational standpoint. That will link well with the whole concept of GPS approach systems instead of instrument approach system."

Along with being data-linked for in-flight company communications, the aircraft will be "gate-linked," essentially using WiFi to allow the pilots to send and receive information while at the gate.

"A lot of airlines today are transferring data back and forth to and from the aircraft wirelessly while it’s at the gate. We’ve heard that some airports are setting up gate link systems that all of their customers can use. Rather than have the airline put in the infrastructure, the whole airport will have that infrastructure," Boehm said.

Bombardier is using what it calls an "integrated avionics architecture" in the design — an open architecture that replaces avionics boxes with cards that can be added or removed from a rack, similar to programmable cards for a PC. "This allows lower maintenance costs, faster turnarounds and more upgrade flexibility in that you don’t have to change the entire box. You simply change the card," Boehm said.

The flight deck is not the only area that will see advanced technology. New capabilities also are being developed for the cabin.

"What does the future hold for the passenger? It holds the ability to plug your laptop in while on the airplane and actually get a network connection," Boehm said.

"I think there will be a next generation of that coming out - the ability to download more broadband, download music, download TV, those sort of things. The future holds greater connectivity for the customer through either satcom, ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) or other data link systems that are going to pop up in the next three to five years. Rather than a data link and communications being focused only on the front end of the aircraft for pilots, more and more you’re going to see that at the back end, both for the customer and for the airline itself," he said.

Boehm said airlines increasingly want their flight attendants to be able to communicate directly with ground bases. This allows the cabin crew to receive data such as gate information for connecting flights.

"Today, the pilots get an ACARS message, they print it out, rip it off, and with today’s door rule, they pretty much have to slip it under the door in order for the chief steward or flight attendant to read it out over the PA system," Boehm said.

The CSeries aircraft will have the capability for flight attendants to contact their companies directly via the cabin management display, he said

The economics of the cockpit avionics will not be substantial compared to the economics of the entire aircraft, but will help reduce operating costs in three ways. The first is simply in weight reduction, through use of a fly-by-wire system and using cards instead of boxes.

Secondly, the system is being designed to be more robust and more redundant to reduce maintenance costs.

"And if you count dispatch reliability as part of your maintenance costs... the CSeries could be dispatched with one display out and still be legal for a revenue flight," Boehm said.

Thirdly, savings will be realized through the commonality of the cockpit.

"If we build a cockpit that is 100 percent common between our 110-seat airplane and our 130-seat airplane, that saves immense amounts of money in terms of both initial and recurrent training," Boehm said.

New Glass Cockpit For ATR 42/72-600 Series Turboprop

Avions de Transport Régional (ATR), the manufacturer of turboprop airliners based in Toulouse, France, recently announced its next generation ATR 42/72 series will eventually replace the current ATR 42/72-500 line. The ATR 42/72-600 series, launched last October, is scheduled to enter service in 2010.

ATR, formed in 1981, is a joint venture of EADS and Alenia Aeronautica.

The company’s -600 series will maintain high commonality with the -500, with the two biggest changes being the introduction of new, flexible-power rated engines and a Thales digital glass cockpit.

The Thales avionics package consists of five 6-by-8 inch LCD multifunction displays. Each pilot will have a primary flight display for EFIS functions and a multifunction display for navigation and aircraft system data. A central display will provide Engine Instrument and Crew Alert System (EICAS) information, plus checklists and procedures management and permanent data.

Standard equipment includes a GNSS/WAAS-capable comm/nav system ready for Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approaches, and a multipurpose computer (MPC) "to further enhance flight safety and operational capabilities," said John Moore, ATR senior vice president, commercial. The MPC will be standard equipment on the -600 and is currently available for retrofit on -500.

The MPC gathers in-flight information coming from aircraft systems, recording different parameters and data "so that at any given time, the pilots can download or access data after a squawk or anomaly. That information can also be sent to mechanics ahead of time or downloaded upon arrival so that (maintenance personnel) can very quickly access data directly from the operation of the aircraft for quick analysis and troubleshooting," Moore said.

"The cockpit will come with a fairly standard package, which has always been our philosophy," he added. "This simplifies things for the operators and is better for the investors and financiers not to have a gazillion different versions of the aircraft out there."

Additional upgrades and capabilities are available, such as Cat. IIIa autopilot to allow ILS auto-landings with a decision height of 50 feet, Moore said. "But if an operator doesn’t need that, he is not going to want to pay for it."

Other options for the -600 include additional read-out capabilities on the MPC, vertical situation display for terrain and aircraft vertical separation, an airport navigation function for ground navigation aids, coupled VNAV and CMC Electronics’ PilotView Class 2 electronic flight bag. The aircraft will be fully certified for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) operations, with operators deciding what degree of ADS-B functionality they need.

"This will be by far the most advanced cockpit and instrumentation that is available today in the regional industry because we are benefiting from a lot of what (Thales) has done for the A380 program," Moore said.

Installation of the Thales digital cockpit is expected to provide a 6-to-8 percent reduction in maintenance costs compared to the analog systems in earlier ATR models, as well as provide an improvement in terms of failure rate, time between renewals and reliability of the components, Moore said. "Strictly from a maintenance standpoint, it will reduce maintenance costs and increase access to information to facilitate maintenance and reliability."

The -600 series will have an in-flight entertainment system, requiring some additional avionics planning for the aircraft’s cabin. In January 2007, ATR said it delivered the first in-flight entertainment (IFE) system for a turboprop airliner — an ATR 72-500 to Kingfisher Airlines, of India. The IFE equipment from Vision Systems, of Brignais, France, consisted of 17 drop-down color LCD screens. The Kingfisher aircraft also represented the first turboprop equipped with Light Emitting Diode cabin lighting, from Sirio Panel, of Montevarchi, Italy, according to the airframer.

The -600 will be powered by new Pratt & Whitney PW127M engines, as opposed to the current PW127F. The new engine will produce 5 percent additional power when needed and is capable of being electronically controlled from the cockpit to give the pilots an extra 1,100 pounds takeoff weight and an additional 1,000-foot, one-engine-out ceiling improvement. When not needed, the pilots can opt for the lesser power of the 127F to save fuel costs and wear and tear on the engine, Moore said.

The costs of the new Thales glass cockpit, plus improved PW127M engines will add about $700,000 to the cost of today’s -500, putting the next generation ATR 42/72-600 at around $19 million in 2007 dollars, Moore said. — Douglas W. Nelms

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