[Avionics Today May 29, 2014] Improving ground-based real-time monitoring of aircraft data is a topic of wide and heated discussion among airlines, regulators, avionics manufacturers and others following the loss of Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH370.
This week, one of the largest gatherings on the subject convened in Kuala Lumpur. Companies and organizations participating in the ITU's "Expert Dialogue" session included Boeing, Deutsche Lufthansa, EUROCONTROL, L-3 Communications and Rolls-Royce, among others.
One such company, Teledyne Controls, presented an innovative concept for cost effectively streaming onboard aircraft data to ground based airline operations centers. As the industry continues to address this issue of enabling airlines to know precisely when the event of an emergency occurs, especially for those carriers who fly increasingly more routes in the oceanic environment, cost is a key issue. Although the capability for constant contact exists, the wide number of bankruptcy filings, mergers and consolidations across the global airline industry over the last decade points to the need to stringently cut costs.
According to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), in 2013 airlines’ industry wide net profit margins were 1.8 percent of revenues in 2013 and are expected to be 2.8 percent of revenues for this year. The expectation that airlines quickly overhaul their fleets with new equipment that provides efficient real-time streaming of flight data in light of incidents such as the Malaysia flight MH370 is unrealistic.
Currently, airborne analysis and message routers are prevalent on all commercial Air Transport (AT) aircraft in the form of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS). However, the problem with streaming data exclusively through these systems is that each has limited bandwidth and capability, and support text messaging of small canned data sets about the conditions of various aircraft systems. Neither neither of these can support data streaming of the aircraft's flight data recorder, according to a presentation given by William Cecil, business development manager at Teledyne Controls.
This is especially true in the oceanic environment, where Malaysia Airlines and others frequently fly. Today's in-use oceanic ACARS data links are less than 5 Kbps, which is adequate for ACMS and Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS), but not for "black box" data streaming. Cecil's solution for this is to use the new broadband systems that are widely being deployed on aircraft across the global aviation industry. Such systems are being deployed mostly in support of passenger connectivity; however, they could be connected to newer flight data IP-enabled routing systems.
More than 60 percent of new production Boeing 777s and 747-8s and Airbus A330s and A380s feature a system designed by Teledyne, the WGL Comm+, which features integral cellular radios and antennas. These are all long haul aircraft that are commonly used on oceanic routes.
“It could be very quickly possible to enable black box data streaming in flight for many existing aircraft without installing any new technology,” said Cecil. “By simply connecting a broadband flight data IP router on board with the broadband satcom systems that airlines are increasingly installing for the primary purpose of Internet access for passengers, we believe this is possible, and are planning to work with partner airlines and OEMs to prove this concept.”