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Fri 25 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Onboard intelligence

The latest avionics packages are enabling the Middle East's air transport sector to safely increase its air traffic, meet environmental standards and satisfy passenger demand, all the while cutting costs.

Onboard intelligence
Onboard intelligence
Onboard intelligence
Honeywell’s multi-function radar display conserves valuable space.
Onboard intelligence

The latest avionics packages are enabling the Middle East's air transport sector to safely increase its air traffic, meet environmental standards and satisfy passenger demand, all the while cutting costs.

With air traffic figures on the rise in the Middle East, the demand for high-performance avionics technology has boomed over the last few years.

Even with air traffic growth slowing in 2009, Middle East carriers recorded 13% growth compared to the same months last year and the rapid expansion on international traffic growth that has been recorded in recent years is predicted to continue, despite the economic downturn.

Put simply, managing crowded skies, maintaining optimum safety levels and implementing cost-cutting measures mean that the aviation market cannot afford to purchase wasteful air traffic control systems and avionics equipment.

But, independent aviation consultancy, IBA Group says, during these tough times, airlines have to consider the financial losses incurred from buying new technology while, at the same time, remaining competitive.

"The major airlines are not just in a fight for financial survival - they have to compete at every level," says IBA Group president and chief operating officer Phil Seymour.

"The depreciation [of buying new technology] can be horrifying. Keeping up with the latest technology means that this expenditure has to be written over six to eight years as well as incurring the ongoing maintenance costs of damage and repairs."

Fortunately, the major players in the international avionics and aerospace sector, which include Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales are making breakthroughs with the avionics packages they supply, and nowadays they are more cost-effective to upgrade.

Honeywell has developed a number of advanced technologies based on its collision avoidance technology, the ACAS II (Airborne Collision Avoidance System) and Mode S transponder system (offers traffic and weather information to pilots), which first entered the market in 2002. Since then, increased surveillance range options, improved reliability and advanced communication data links have all been developed within a modular architecture, making it easier and more cost-effective to upgrade the technology to fit in with future avionics technologies.

Rockwell Collins is also focusing on serving airlines' investment needs by providing surveillance architecture that can operate with future technologies. Rockwell's Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) II, transponder and integrated surveillance systems is, the company says, bringing enhanced situational awareness and efficiency to flight crews.

But it is not only traffic congestion that places flight crews under pressure. As airlines adopt new international routes to bolster their networks, unpredictable weather threats need to be anticipated.

Honeywell's multifunction radar display (MFRD) combines the display of weather radar, traffic, terrain, navigation maps and other data into a single space-saving multifunction instrument. Designed to work with various weather radar systems, TCAS, enhanced ground proximity warnings, flight management systems and navigation systems, the MFRD provides an upgrade path to additional systems while conserving valuable instrument panel space. Not only that, but it boasts the highest resolution display of its size in the industry.

Similarly, Rockwell Collins' MultiScan system provides hazard detection technologies incorporating numerous features designed to give pilots a clear assessment of weather threats in the aircraft's flight path.

"You can detect weather hazards that other systems simply can't," says a company spokesperson, "and get the most accurate and consistent weather hazard information no matter where you are in the world.

Features of Bombardier’s new Global Vision flight deck

• Four high resolution 15-inch diagonal LCD displays working in concert with the Rockwell Collins HGS-6000 Head-Up Guidance Systems

• High resolution terrain map

• Synthetic vision with Bombardier's Enhanced Vision System (BEVS)

• Rockwell Collins MultiScan weather radar

• Advanced human machine interface including graphical flight planning capability

• Integrated Flight Information Systems (IFIS) with electronic charts and enhanced maps

• Future Air Navigation System Controller-Pilot Data Link Communication (FANS CPDLC)

• Triple Advanced Flight Management Systems with Wide Area Augmentation System Localiser Precision Vertical (WAAS/LPV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP) capabilities.

• Rockwell Collins TSS-4100 Traffic Surveillance System with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) capabilities

"From lightening and hail avoidance to enhanced turbulence detection, MultiScan helps pilots avoid weather dangers, providing passengers with a smooth and safe ride."

High levels of awareness are critical when piloting an aircraft and technology provider Thales, has been selected to provide a comprehensive avionics package for the new long-range, wide-body Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, which is currently under development.

To date, the aircraft, which is scheduled to enter service in 2013, has 483 orders from some 30 customers, of which include Qatar Airways, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways. The avionics package includes an integrated modular avionics suite, interactive control and display systems and air data and inertial reference unit.

Thales says the technology has been designed to take into consideration the future operational needs of the overall air transport system, as well as the Middle East's significant increase in air traffic.

In order to anticipate the needs of the system, the company has created two simulation and prototyping demonstrators and tools: Airlab, which provides an experimental means to offer optimised solutions, improvements and innovation both to pilots and air traffic controllers; and iDeck, a cockpit prototyping and simulation platform available for airframers, to test new configurations and display systems within the cockpit.

In fact, Thales systems and equipment are fitted to all Airbus jetliners, including the European plane maker's newest type to enter the market, the A380. The super jumbo is the first Airbus airliner fitted with the Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) suite, developed with Diehl Aerospace. The IMA is a leap-ahead in technological innovation, with all onboard computing modules networked and able to support different applications. The result is a substantial improvement in computing power, reliability, maintainability, volume, weight and scalability.

In addition, Thales has been working with Airbus' rivals, Boeing. Onboard the 787, the US manufacturers much anticipated and newest commercial airliner, Thales has supplied navigational equipment that includes a ‘three-in-one' instrument combining altitude indications and airspeed on a single LCD display. The integrated electronic standby instrument is already in service on more than 500 Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer and EADS/CASA aircraft worldwide.

In terms of maintenance, German-based company Becker Avionics has been providing and maintaining avionics products for the last 50 years. During the economic downturn, it says the booming retrofit market holds huge potential for the company.

Becker Avionics estimates that some 60% of all aircraft presently in service around the globe are scheduled to be replaced or upgraded. The budget, prior to 2010, for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) is estimated at US$1.1 billion. About 20% involve cockpit and avionics. For example, 2200 C130 transport aircraft will require maintenance or upgrade within this short period of time.

In addition, the maintenance provider is hoping to play a key role in equipping Mode S transponders - as stipulated by regulatory authorities - to light aircraft worldwide. At present, less than 1% of all light aircraft worldwide are equipped with Mode S transponders.

Turning to business aviation, the new Gulfstream G650 ultra long-range business jet promises to be the most technologically advanced business aircraft in the sky, based on both Honeywell avionics and Thales controls. Features such as Enhanced Vision System II, the Head-Up Display II and the Synthetic Vision-Primary Flight Display come as standard.

Its PlaneView II cockpit comes equipped with a triplex flight management system, automatic emergency descent mode, 3-D weather radar and advanced flight controls, providing a an impressive portfolio of next-generation technology to improve pilot situational awareness and safety enhancements. The aircraft will be introduced onto the market in 2012.

Not only that, but just last month, Rockwell Collins announced its Pro Line Fusion avionics system had successfully completed the first Bombardier test flight on a Global Express XRS long-range business jet. The system acts as the centrepiece of Bombardier's new Global Vision flight deck which features on the plane manufacturer's Global family of jets.

"This was a very rewarding milestone for Pro Line Fusion," says Rockwell Collins vice president and general manager of business and regional systems Greg Irmen. "The Pro Line Fusion development continues to make great progress as evidenced by this very successful maiden flight of Bombardier's Global Express XRS."

The five-hour test flight was conducted at Bombardier's facility in Toronto, Canada to evaluate the capabilities of the high resolution LCD display system with integrated cursor control, radio tuning for communication, navigation and surveillance system, flight management system and autopilot. At this year's Paris Air Show, Qatar Airways announced it would launch a corporate jet division with a fleet of new Bombardier aircraft.

Intelligence on board the Airbus A380

• Control and display system (1)

• LCD head-up display (HUD-LCD)

• Onboard airport navigation system (OANS) (1)

• Brake pressure indicator (BPI)

• Slats and flaps control system (2)

Navigation

• Flight control unit (FCU) (1)

• Standby navigation system (SNS)

• Digital radio-altimeter (DRA)

• Accelerometers

Avionics

• Integrated modular avionics (IMA) (1)

• Aircraft full-duplex end system (AFDX E/S) (1)

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