Cathay Pacific Ready to Start E-Enabling its Flight Operations

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | January 18, 2017
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[Avionics Magazine 01-18-2017] Cathay Pacific has committed to a new “e-Enablement” program that will transform its fleet of 174 Airbus and Boeing airliners into a completely paperless digital flight operation. Under a new agreement with Miami-based avionics manufacturer Avionica, the Hong Kong-based carrier will add a new package of satellite communications hardware, network servers, cellular and Quick Access Recorder (QAR) technology designed to enable seamless global aircraft connectivity and data sharing across the airline’s entire organization. 
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ERs. Photo: Cathay Pacific. 
Starting this year, Avionica will begin adding its satLINK MAX Iridium satellite communications system, aviONS Onboard Network Server, avCM 4G cellular device and 4G wireless avRDC Max QAR to the Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon fleets of Boeing 777s, 747s and Airbus A320s and A330s. The new agreement brings closure to a process that began several years ago for Cathay, when the airline entered agreements with several suppliers to provide a collection of hardware, software and data communication services capabilities that demonstrate how e-Enablement could enhance the air and ground maintenance and information-sharing portions of its flight operations.  
After evaluating technology from other vendors, the latest agreement finalizes its selection and opens up a suite of new air-to-ground data communications, connectivity and onboard aircraft efficiency applications possibilities. In a 2016 white paper focusing on new game-changing aviation technologies, ICF analysts David Stewart and Jonathan Berger cited a 2006 definition of “e-Enablement” from Boeing that best describes what Cathay wants to do with the new technology. Boeing describes e-Enablement as “the strategic connection and integration of business processes, people, airplanes, information, assets, and knowledge into a single focused business system.”
Rob Saunders, head of engineering and business improvement for Cathay Pacific, told Avionics that the airline sees the addition of the new technology to its fleet as a way to improve communications and information sharing.
“The key differentiator of an integrated suite of capability comprising the e-enabled system is the concept of an onboard Wi-Fi network for any EFB or tablet to communicate peer to peer and to the airline’s IT infrastructure, globally, full time,” said Saunders. “This is achieved through Iridium when airborne or cellular when on the ground. Given the growing number of polar routes, Iridium satcom assures communications for flight crew operations.” 
Each piece of hardware going into the Cathay Pacific fleet provides a different functionality that the airline wants to start using. SatLINK Max, for example, provides a four-channel FANS-1/A and Air Traffic Control (ATC) safety services-approved satellite communications system. The avSYNC QAR will provide a direct link for automated data transfers between aircraft and Cathay’s operations center, as well as automated data synchronization of onboard applications.
Saunders also sees major value in the aviONS Onboard Network Server (ONS), which gives them the ability to host airline applications on a server that is already installed on the airplane, rather than using separated paper or digital filing processes. One of the main capabilities provided by an ONS is its ability to digitally store entries about irregularities associated with aircraft components and systems in a way that previously required a paper logbook. 
Boeing has found ONS so valuable, in fact, that all of its next-generation aircraft, such as the 737 MAX and 777X, will feature an ONS as standard production equipment.
Avionica’s aviONS box also features a wireless hotspot function that allows pilots to connect directly to it with their Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) or tablets and retrieve different types of data for different functions, such as tablet moving map application that needs to know an aircraft position, longitude and latitude information. 
“The ability for the ONS to host airline applications and access flight data in real time also opens up opportunities for onboard monitoring through media storage, including operational documents or any future information that could be accessed by the crew tablets. The ONS provides a host for applications still needed by ground crews when the crew (and their personal EFBs) are not on the aircraft,” said Saunders. 
Avionica’s e-Enabled products for Cathay Pacific include aviONS (right) and satLINK MAX. aviONS – an open-platform network supporting airline and third party software systems – enhances airborne connectivity with global 4G Cellular and WiFi. satLINK MAX is a 4-channel, FANS-1/A and ATC Voice Safety Service approved Iridium SATCOM system. Photo: Avionica.
According to Avionica Vice President of Sales Anthony Rios, in his discussions with Cathay Pacific he learned that it has another major goal with its new path to e-Enablement as well — the elimination of paper. Not only the elimination of paper-based airport charts and maps used by pilots, but also a large warehouse of paper-based documents that Cathay currently manages associated with its flight operations. 
Another new ability gained by Cathay with the installation of the new equipment from Avionica will be an option in the future to bypass the use of the global Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) for pulling data about the health and performance of individual aircraft parts and systems off the aircraft and sharing it with ground-based maintenance personnel in real time. 
“Today, when Cathay’s Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) sees an event on the aircraft involving a system or parameter it is monitoring, it will generate an ACARS message and send it to the ground via the standard ACARS system. One of the things that is unique to Cathay’s design is they have connected the server to the satcom system, so as they write their applications, they would have the capability to bypass the typical ACARS system and send it via satcom,” said Rios. ”They can choose a format, it can be ACARS format or a binary format, at that point they already have a lot of flexibility in how they implement it.”
Avionica’s recently announced partnership with GigSky also becomes significant as it provides the option for airlines such as Cathay to customize the type of data service and rates they will encounter when its airplanes are on the ground.

Rios said Avionica will be handling all of the aircraft integration aspects of all of Avionica’s hardware for Cathay. The company is coordinating with FAA and the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department for validation of its existing FAA Supplemental Type Certificates while also working through new STCs for the Airbus A320 and A330 fleets . 

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