Etihad Airways has emerged in recent years as one of the world’s most prominent airlines. The carrier invests significantly in new aircraft and capability each year. Avionics recently caught up with Jeff Wilkinson, senior vice president technical and general manager at Etihad Airways, to talk about the airline’s latest investments and the key technical challenges it faces.
Avionics: Could you tell us about your main technology capital expenditure plans over the next two years? What will be the key fleet and technology investments you will look to make?
In an ever-changing operational environment the focus will be investing in universal Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) that is efficient, compact and reliable as opposed to specialized dedicated test equipment for each OEM product. Our fleet growth with new generation aircraft drives the capital expenditure on these platforms, ensuring equipment investments support maintenance on old and new technologies. Products would range from aircraft electrical/electronic control boxes and flight control units, and include navigation and communication.
Avionics: Are there any cockpit avionics upgrades that you want to make in order to improve fuel efficiency for your aircraft? What other avionics upgrades are you looking at?
Typically, flight plans are filed several hours prior to a flight's estimated time of departure, and the weather reports provided to flight crews can be as much as 12 hours old, inaccurate and can prevent the aircraft from operating at optimum speeds and altitudes. To avoid this, we are currently trialing Dynamic Airborne Reroute Procedures (DARP) on a number of our aircraft to see how we can take advantage of the very latest atmospheric conditions and forecasts to save fuel and optimize each flight. We are also looking at Boeing’s Winds function, which provides automated high-resolution wind data updates in real time directly to the flight deck, to further enhance cruising altitudes and overall flight efficiency.
: What are the key avionics maintenance issues that technicians currently deal with? How are you looking to resolve these issues?
We can reduce our operational costs by ensuring our turnaround times are completed as quickly as possible. One of the most common challenges our shop technicians face in achieving quick turnaround times is the replacement of Shop Replaceable Units (SRUs). Operators are burdened by high investment costs on SRU inventories. We continue to work with OEMs to support on consignment opportunities, coupled with Level 3 repairs on SRUs.
In addition, our technicians have to factor in testing length, where products require six or more hours of testing. The use of ATE, which enables operators to quickly analyze test data and identify the source of defect or No Fault Found (NFF), really supports this goal.
Avionics: What next generation Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) avionics-related upgrades are you planning to incorporate into your aircraft fleet?
We are planning to enhance the surveillance and track-ability of our aircraft by incorporating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADSÃ¢â¬ÂB) Out and ADS-B In technology and a Underwater Locating Device (ULD) operating at a frequency of 8.8 kHz.
Avionics: Where is the airline with its Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) strategy?
Etihad Airways uses Class 1 EFBs on all aircraft in our fleet. However, we still maintain paper charts for navigation and Minimum Equipment List/Configuration Deviation List (MEL/CDL) for maintenance action on our A320, A330 and A340 aircraft. We plan to install the Class 1 EFB mounting later this year in order to use the navigational chart function. In addition, we also use the Class 3 EFB on our A380, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 aircraft, which contains all documents, including navigational charts.
Avionics: What are the key improvements you are looking to make in terms of operations over the next 2-3 years?
Our goal is to ensure all cockpits are paperless, with the rollout of e-Logbook and Electronic Flight Folder (ELF) across the fleet. We also hope to go fully wireless on Class 1 EFB for all stages of flight, enabling us to minimize data transfer on the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).
Avionics: Finally, what do you see as the key technology or avionics challenges facing airlines over the next two years?
Wilkinson: As reliance on software is increasing on electrical, electronic and mechanical components, the future of component maintenance will demand larger numbers of proficient software and hardware engineers with an aviation background. Maintenance documents will need to provide detailed information for shops to effectively troubleshoot and perform complex repairs. OEMs will be challenged to amend their approach and support operators on test programs and level 3 repairs, enabling operators to lower maintenance costs.