Government mandates and new technologies are driving the test market. Looming deadlines for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), as well as new systems such as the CSeries SmartProbe, are keeping test equipment makers and users busy, even as both sides attempt to deal with challenges posed by aftermarket avionics manufacturers.
As the most obvious challenges in avionics testing, the expanded presence of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the aftermarket and associated restrictions on access to intellectual property (IP) needed to develop new test sets affect both tester developers and equipment users. “The [third-party] bench test market is shrinking” for just that reason, asserted Jeanne Rau-Flattery, president of avionics test distributor Aero Express. “The bench market is shrinking because the avionics OEMs are restricting data, thus reducing the availability of third-party equipment to maintenance, repair, and overhaul organizations doing bench work.”
OEMs want to dominate the maintenance of their own components and restrict access to the IP, said Olivier Boina, director of industrial development and competitiveness for Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M), one of the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organizations. “This situation is not acceptable for the industry” because of the risk of maintenance cost increases, she said. “The challenge … for the future will be to find the right way to solve this issue, both for the OEMs and airlines/MROs.”
Expansion of OEMs into the aftermarket extends to mobile service units, said Lew Wingate, VP of distribution and ground support test equipment for Barfield, a developer of air data test equipment and AFI KLM E&M subsidiary. Corporate aviation airframers like Bombardier, Gulfstream and Cessna feature mobile services. “They do everything — especially air data test,” he said.
There is room for improvement. Most avionics testers are efficient at performing tests, but less so in helping technicians determine the root cause of failures (level 2 diagnostics), Boina said. He suggested more built-in root-cause analysis would increase MRO and airline efficiency.
Test equipment obsolescence is actually less of a problem than it used to be, he continued. Twenty years ago, several major avionics OEMs offered homemade test solutions that were a challenge to keep up to date. But over the past decade, some OEMs have spun off their avionics test capabilities. Spherea (the ATEC platform), for example, was formerly an Airbus unit. These decisions were probably motivated in part to avoid tester obsolescence issues. The result has been more reliable and multi-OEM test-bench solutions for airlines, Boina said.
Government mandates have benefitted air data, surveillance and communications testers. Air data is an attractive niche because all IFR aircraft require regular checks. Air data test sets (ADTS) also cover a lot of ground, simulating the pressure and vacuum conditions required to calibrate the airspeed, altimeter, vertical speed, manifold pressure and engine pressure ratio indicators, as well as to leak-test the pitot-static system, according to Barfield.
The ADTS market was turbocharged in 2005 with the FAA’s reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) requirement, which necessitated equipment precise enough to calibrate avionics in airspace where vertical separation was reduced from 2,000 to 1,000 feet. Intense competition in this sector spurs innovation.
The U.S. deadline for ADS-B hits January 2020. CPDLC and ADS-contract (ADS-C) will be required by year-end in North Atlantic high-level airspace, and the European CPDLC airline equipage mandate will follow February 2020.
One company strategizing this is Airtel ATN, which occupies a niche in commercial datalink operational software, aircraft routers and datalink/network test. The company is highly tuned, not only to existing datalinks, but also to emerging systems such as aeronautical telecommunication network (ATN) internet protocol suite (IPS), or ATN/IPS.
The company’s multi-test platform (MTP), currently in its third iteration, has served OEMs and MROs in datalink installation verification and tests for a decade. The equipment “can simulate the full ground network,” including air traffic control data, for aircraft equipment tests, said Santi Ibarz, Airtel ATN’s R&D director. MTP usually can test a new or retrofit communications management unit (CMU) in 10 to 15 minutes, he said.
Just under 100,000 aircraft in the U.S. have not been equipped with ADS-B Out, said Kerry Crawford, product manager of avionics test for Cobham AvComm. In addition, 6,000 of the 41,590 aircraft with ADS-B Out installations do not comply with requirements.
Although installations are tested per supplemental type certificates (STCs), full ground tests may not have been done before performing FAA operational flight evaluations (OFEs), the company said. Thus operators may get reports showing transponder configuration or other issues.
Installation tests per Part 91.227 specify surface and airborne evaluations, the latter of which requires the airplane to be put into a simulated or actual airborne state to verify factors such as baro and geo altitude. These requirements can be satisfied by OFE or ground test equipment, but owners of small single-piston-engine aircraft who have signed up for the FAA rebate program would need to perform an OFE, according to Cobham AvComm.
Cobham AvComm has implemented ADS-B (DO-260B) test capability in all of its transponder/traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) test products, Crawford explained. The equipment is used in factory, return-to-service and aftermarket installation verification testing.
The company’s IFR6000 ramp tester can cover all required ADS-B ground tests. The IFR6000, together with Cobham’s GPSG-1000 GPS simulator — using the company’s ADS-B Integrity Test application to control the equipment — can test all AC 20-165B parametrics, static and dynamic, in simulated flight conditions. (Pitot-static equipment or simulation also is required.) The simulated flight test creates a report similar to the FAA’s public test process that validates conformance with all AC 20-165B requirements.
The IFR6000, which also tests universal access transceivers (UATs), comes with an antenna shield and optional antenna couplers to fully isolate the test and eliminate false intruders.
Although the air data test set market was hit hard by the recession, revenues are expected to grow by 3% to 4% a year over the next few years, said Thibault De La Grandville, sales manager for Laversab, an independent ADTS provider. He estimated 500 to 700 pitot-static test sets were sold worldwide in 2016.
Laversab’s latest product, the Model 6600-NG ramp tester, can handle the new CSeries SmartProbe technology as well as more conventional pitot-static system designs. It will be used for SmartProbe testing at the airframer factories, as well as for base maintenance and line maintenance checks, Grandville said. The tester has been approved in the aircraft maintenance manuals for Bombardier CSeries, Embraer EJETS and the Embraer Phenom 300.
SmartProbe technology, developed by UTC Aerospace, integrates pitot, static and angle of attack (AoA) measurement functions. In more traditional air data system designs, AoA is measured by a mechanical vane attached to the fuselage. Although the probes are expensive, Grandville said they simplify leak testing, “the biggest pain” in pitot-static test. In the new design, the air data computer is just on the other side of the fuselage from the probe, so there are no pitot-static lines.
The Model 6600-NG, an evolution of Laversab’s Model 6300-W tester, adds one more static channel to allow the generation of differential pressures that are translated to AoA data. The unit is also Wi-Fi-enabled.
The 6600-NG is backward-compatible. At the push of a button, it becomes a regular two-channel RVSM test set, Grandville said. Customers can also have two-channel Model 6300 testers upgraded to the three-channel model, the only such upgrade option in the market, he said. The company offers guaranteed two-day calibration, overnight-shipped loaners and standard three-year warranties plus “unlimited free training.”
In 2014 Barfield began shipping its first internally developed product, the fully automated DPS1000, Wingate said. The DPS1000 introduced wireless control of the ADTS via a tablet-based app, which is one of the reasons the equipment is 50% less expensive than its predecessors, he said.
A major enhancement allows users to update test-set software via tablet. Other developments include adding capability for helicopter barrier filter and commercial aviation cabin pressure testing. Another involves adding an audible alert to notify technicians that the pitot-static system has reached the targeted altitude/airspeed for tests that require simulated flight conditions, so the maintainer can be doing something else until the aircraft is ready. This adaptability to customer needs has paid off, resulting in sales of more than 400 units in the past three years, Wingate said.
Business aviation MRO Duncan Aviation buys avionics testers from companies like Barfield and Cobham AvComm. But most of its testing needs are met by in-house designed and maintained bench testers deployed through the company’s network of avionics shops. These units handle a wide range of equipment, with the advantage of never going obsolete.
Twenty years ago, the company developed DATE-1, an automated test set for autopilots and flight directors, said Rich Teel, Duncan Aviation’s R&D manager for test equipment. The third iteration, DATE-1C, tests 50 different types of units, he said. The PC-based tester can go through a test sequence that might have taken four hours on an OEM tester and do it in 50 minutes, he said. That’s a “huge” efficiency driver because you’re freeing up so much technician time. It also reduces the possibility of human error. The MRO tested “thousands” of units on this equipment.
Another in-house product, Softset, can be used to test pitot-static systems, radars, automatic direction finder radio navigation units, distance measuring equipment and navigation/communication gear. Also in its third iteration, the Windows-based unit can change its function with the addition of “personality modules” that plug into the core matrix unit, Teel said. Duncan has built 40 of these testers over the past 20 years.
The test equipment market for military identification friend or foe (IFF), Mode 5, technology is heating up worldwide. The international military market is years behind the U.S. in Mode 5 IFF upgrades and is facing a Jan. 1, 2020, compliance deadline, said Jeffrey O’Hara, president and CEO of Tel-Instrument Electronics, an IFF test equipment supplier. While the transition to Mode 5 will take time, the international market is expected to grow.
Cobham AvComm offers three IFF Mode 5 transponder test sets, said Jeff Coltvet, senior product manager. These include the APM-424(V)5 (ramp), the IFF-45TS (bench) and the IFF-7300S automatic test equipment (ATE). The handheld ramp product is used to interrogate the aircraft to verify performance before flight. The 7300S covers IFF Mode 5, the legacy IFF Mode 4 and TACAN (tactical air navigation) gear.
Tel-Instrument offers a range of testers. Its AN/USN-708/719 replaces seven obsolete Navy test sets, O’Hara said. Other new equipment includes the TS-4530A, a portable IFF test set used by the U.S. Army and Air Force. It can perform go/no-go testing for Mode 5, Mode S, TCAS and ADS-B. The company’s TR-220 commercial test set covers TCAS, DME, ADS-B, SIF (selective identification feature) and Modes 1, 2, 3A, C and S transponders.
The company has an estimated 95% worldwide market share for Mode 5 flight-line testers, O’Hara asserted. All of its Mode 5 testers include full ADS-B test capability. He expects to see “solid growth” both in the international Mode 5 IFF market and in ADS-B test, as the latter is also a military requirement.
In a recent survey of 90 readers, Avionics found that almost 35% need to buy new testers or upgrade existing units. They want the ability to test legacy as well as new technologies (33%), multi-functionality (27%) and flexible architectures (11%) — plus have a low cost of ownership (17%). Half say they would buy to meet a service performance or operational requirement.
Among the top brands readers have used are Barfield (20%), Aeroflex (16%) and National Instruments (11%). They say they’d like to hear more about National (15%), Aeroflex (12%), Aero Instruments (10%) and Barfield (9%). AVS