[Avionics Today 11-13-2014] Over the next two decades, China will become the world's largest air passenger market, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who projects the country will surpass the United States by adding 16.9 billion new passengers. To accommodate for that massive growth in the number of aircraft flying into and out of China, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) has implemented avionics equipage requirements for its domestic airlines, presenting big opportunities for well-established American and European avionics manufacturers. Airshow China in Zhuhai this week presented the opportunity for one of the industry's most active players in the region, Thales, to discuss equipage requirements with airlines and also enter into new business opportunities with operators in the region.
In 2012, the CAAC published its "Head up Display Application Roadmap," requiring airlines to equip 10 percent of their fleet with Head up Displays (HUDs) by 2015, then increasing that to 50 percent by 2020 and finally equipping 100 percent of the fleet with the technology by 2025. Thales is the sole supplier of HUDs for the entire Airbus aircraft family, from the A318 to the company's latest model, the A350 XWB. CAAC is making HUD technology a priority for its airlines in order to improve safety and efficiency, Daniel Malka vice president in charge of avionics services at Thales told Avionics Magazine.
"In China, you have more and more aircraft flying. They have a lot of difficulties managing the increasing number of flights into China. The airlines that have the HUDs installed, they will benefit from improved situational awareness and safety," Malka said. "Beijing for example has one of the world's most congested airports causing very significant delays. I can remember one time having to wait four hours on the aircraft for our flight to leave, and these delays are caused by the significant growth in the number of flights they've experienced recently. The CAAC is very concerned with improving that, so they started to ask for this head up display installation, because one of the ways that you can safely get more aircraft into the airspace is by improving pilot perception and situational awareness with that technology."
According to an emailed statement from Thales, the company believes the HUD system allows smoother transitions for pilots between "eyes in" and "eyes out" flight operations. The technology also has the possibility of allowing for reduced landing minima on suitably equipped runways in China. Over the next five years, CAAC has authorized the construction of 70 new airports in China to help accommodate for projected air traffic growth.
Thales will not be the only avionics company benefitting from CAAC's HUD requirement either. Rockwell Collins is the supplier of HUDs for the Boeing 737, 777 and 787, thus, the Chinese carriers adding Boeing air transport aircraft to their fleets over the next decade will receive one of their displays. Through 2025, IATA expects one third of all new production aircraft from the major OEMs to be delivered to Chinese operators. Malka also says that the CAAC will be requiring airlines to equip their aircraft with satellite communication systems to assist with communication between pilots and flight dispatchers.
"There is a request from CAAC to install satcom on their aircraft and as more aircraft continue to be added by the airlines there, more will have to be equipped with both forward fit and retrofit installations in the future," said Malka. "There are also three stages in this recommendation from the CAAC, which is in fact, in 2013, 20 percent of the fleet equipped with satcom. We will see between now and next year they have to reach 70 percent, and the third stage, which is 2016, they have to reach 100 percent equipped with satcom."
One of Thales' major competitors, Honeywell, is also seeing opportunities for growth in China as the country's civil aviation industry continues to develop and become managed as it is in Europe and North America. Currently Honeywell employs about 400 aerospace engineers in its research and product centers in China, with that number expected to increase to over 700 by 2017. In the past, Honeywell engineers served mostly in a support role to Chinese carriers, but that focus has been shifting to a leadership role in domestic production and engineering development, says Thea Feyereisen, an engineering fellow in the Flight Safety Systems group of Honeywell's Aerospace Advanced Technology organization.
"Before most of our in country engineers were more of a product support and now they're becoming more involved in actual development of technology, and so they'll support our traditional product lines, though they also are creating new market space and new products specifically developed for the region," said Feyereisen.
One of the current projects Feyereisen is working on involves helicopter pilots. Honeywell engineers in China are currently working on a system that produces voice activated safety alerts in Mandarin for Chinese helicopter operators.
Thales is also showing interest in the Chinese helicopter industry, especially with the CAAC's decision to relax its rules around low-level flying, leading to increased rotorcraft flight operations. During Airshow China, Thales announced a new partnership with Shanghai Avionics Corp. (SAVIC), to begin jointly developing avionics solutions for the country's growing helicopter market.
"Two-thirds of all new airports currently under construction in the world are in China. With the tremendous market needs and burgeoning demand, the rising presence and emphasis of China in aerospace appears as a forgone conclusion," Feyereisen said in a recent blog post. "China has the second largest economy in the world and the Chinese aerospace industry is just beginning to takeoff."