[Avionics Today 09-23-2016] Developing software that can be certified and used for critical functions in today's aircraft is an extremely difficult task, with engineers constantly facing challenges related to cost, schedule, risk, defects and other related factors. To sift out what factors are driving demand for DO-178C best practices in avionics software certification, Avionics Magazine recently caught up with Vance Hilderman, provider of the world's first training in DO-178.
Bombardier CSeries cockpit. Photo: Bombardier.
DO-178C is the aviation industry standard that defines software considerations in airborne systems and equipment certification. It also provides recommendations for production of software for airborne systems and equipment that performs its intended function with a level of confidence in safety that complies with airworthiness requirements, according to the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA). The document was first published by RTCA in 2011, and has continued to expand in applicability to avionics software requirements being integrated onto aircraft today.
According to Hilderman, one area where his company is seeing increased demand for best practices and gap analysis related to DO-178C is in areas outside of the United States, where airworthiness considerations for avionics software are increasingly needed for new aircraft programs, such as with China's COMAC 919 and Japan's Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ).
"Forty to 50 percent of our work is performed in North America, but China is a growing market on the commercial front with the COMAC 919. That aircraft features a significant amount of avionics supplied by companies based in North America and Europe. We were instrumental in doing a lot of consulting, training, mentoring and auditing to help the different people [involved in the program] get up to speed," said Hilderman, adding that he has also seen increased demand from engineers in Europe and the Middle East. "We have had sold out classes in Turkey, in London, in Germany, places where we didn’t have business 10 years ago."
Another growth area within aviation for DO-178C best practices has been within the development of software for military aircraft, says Hilderman, who notes that 10 years ago military aircraft did not require DO-178, but now DO-178C is "mandatory" for military platforms.
Some avionics companies are also getting away from focusing on making technologies that are completely military or completely commercially focused, and have moved into software and hardware development approaches that address both markets.
"At avionics shows throughout the years, we are seeing the big suppliers portray their capability on commercial and the military side because there is more growth on the commercial than the military side right now, but they are all using the same standards. The interesting thing is at the middle of this all is two standards: ARP 4754, which is a systems aircraft safety standard, and then DO-178C for all software," said Hilderman.
Engineers in the U.S. and abroad are also increasingly seeking DO-178C gap analysis, says Hilderman. To perform gap analysis, AFuzion, and other similar companies will examine an avionics product's safety, software requirements, design, testing, and Quality Assurance (QA) to assess and leverage compliance to FAA and EASA standards/expectations.
A current trend in avionics software development also focuses on moving away from individual unit testing, and testing each individual line of code, to more of a focus on system-level testing.
"Testing each line of code doesn’t really tell us much so we are getting away from unit testing into more system-centric [testing], so much more powerful tools that don’t focus on unit testing but focus on automated change-based system testing. It’s a smart tool that detects when software has been updated, automatically assesses the potential impact of that software update, and automatically re-executes tests at a system level to see if there’s any side affects," said Hilderman.
New entrants and competitors are also driving demand for best practices related to DO-178C and avionics software development as well.
"It’s a very dynamic business, a lot of outsiders people look at this and think its aviation, it's boring, it's staid, it's static. Really the opposite is true, it's incredibly dynamic. One fourth of our clients every year are people who weren’t in the business two years prior, its fascinating," said Hilderman.