Although the testing and certification requirements of the avionics industry can make the segment seem slow to adopt/accept change, there are currents of change flowing beneath that calm exterior.
The proliferation of fly-by-wire systems in conjunction with the increase of composite aircraft makes it imperative that all critical avionics devices enhance their immunity to electrical interference. The amount of control information being transmitted within the aircraft electronically, not to mention the amount of navigation and communication data being exchanged in real-time externally to and from the aircraft, has grown exponentially. The challenge for avionics manufacturers will be to enhance their product/system’s ability to operate under more demanding EMC/EMI requirements, in effect providing superior performance in the new, increasingly common, “noisy” environment.
Even the definition of the appropriate man-machine interface seems to be up for debate. Smart phones and computer tablets have made touch screen technology acceptable (even expected) in the consumer space. The demanding requirements of an avionics environment, however, require a dramatically increased level of fidelity. Consideration of the human factors element simply cannot be ignored in the dialogue concerning the applicability of touch screen technology in avionics. Mission critical applications are enhanced by tactile feedback to the pilot. When safety can be compromised by lack of visibility or a cockpit experiencing even minor turbulence, operation should require a tangible and tactile pilot response that is lacking in most new touch screen technologies. Striking the balance in this area will have significant impact in both the commercial and military arenas.
One technology that started in military avionics and is now migrating rapidly into the commercial space is the ability to fly with night vision goggles. Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) requirements have been common in military applications for several decades, but the increased demand for civilian applications has been dramatic. Law enforcement, border patrol, EMS, and other first responders are adding night vision capabilities to enhance mission success and address safety of flight concerns. The requirement to evolve what has typically been a military specification into the nascent commercial aviation space creates the need to develop new applicable technology and products that meet this growing market.
The industry trend toward glass cockpits is making aircraft systems increasingly complex with integrated electronics and software. This complexity provides a huge challenge for users who need to change or modify the electronics or software in these systems, or to simply have two systems interact with each other. It can be very costly and time-consuming activity to incorporate additional functionality in a complete system that has already been tested, verified, and qualified. One alternative is for the development of pre-qualified standalone interface solutions that provide the ability to link various avionics systems without the effort required to modify and requalify existing aircraft system software.
Lastly, increased pressure on the industry supply chain is driving new opportunities in planning and operations. Demands for more just-in-time inventory and increasingly sophisticated MRP systems are forcing suppliers to change their thinking in what it means to take care of customers. With industry consolidation and the OEM’s desire to reduce the number of suppliers, this also means supplying parts all over the world, not just domestically. Preferred suppliers will have to be more responsive, accommodate shorter leads times and have flawless delivery.
For an industry that can often be considered steady, there are still quite a few positive changes in the air!