Avionics Digital Edition

Plugging Into Today's Interface Devices

New connected aircraft applications and capabilities are being enabled by high-speed connectivity links and advancements in today’s AIDs and information servers, benefitting the entire airline’s operations.

Aircraft interface devices (AIDs) provide easy access to multiple aircraft data and communications channels. With the increased use of electronic flight bags (EFBs) and the reduction (or in many cases the elimination of) paper charts and binders, AIDs have increasingly become the foundation of most Aircraft Data Management (ADM) systems. With their tablets and the computer screens in aircraft, pilots can receive all the benefits of EFBs via their AIDs for improved decision-making to bolster situational awareness and safety, minimize errors, monitor aircraft parameters and reduce the workload of the crew. A secure, AID-enabled system can even suppress cyber-attacks.

AID usage is expanding. According to a market research report by Technavio, the global commercial AID market is expected to post an annual growth rate of close to 13 percent during the period 2019-2023. The report says a key factor driving this growth is the accelerating demand for procuring new aircraft units.

aviONS extends the airline network beyond the limitations of ground infrastructure to connect the cockpit to the airline’s data network. Avionica

“Several major aircraft OEMs are focused on developing new-generation aircraft models that can reduce operational costs of airlines by significant margins,” the report states. “These new-generation aircraft models can generate up to 10 times more performance data which requires the use of AlDs for effective utilization of the data collected from a single aircraft unit, to initiate actionable insights regarding operations and fleet management. Hence, the increasing orders for the new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft units will remain a major driver for the global commercial AID market during the forecast period.”

The GroundLink system allows flight data to be accessed from multiple sources, giving operators complete system independence.sources, giving operators complete system independence.Teledyne Controls

New connected aircraft applications and capabilities are being enabled by high-speed connectivity links and advancements in today’s AIDs and information servers, benefitting the entire airline’s operations.

Connected Aircraft Ecosystem

The significant increase in the amount of data generated by an aircraft is a result of the industry’s understanding of the value of aircraft data. Alex Huynh-Belanger, manager of product and strategic marketing at CMC Electronics, believes the AID is at the center of the connected aircraft ecosystem.

“We’re enabling key individuals and applications to have access to actionable data at the right time to optimize flight operations, streamline maintenance practices and increase overall safety,” Huynh-Belanger says. “With today’s connectivity solutions, the flight crew has quicker access to a wider range of information and the ground crew can monitor in real-time, all the time, the health of their fleet and take pro-active actions to minimize turnaround time and turn unscheduled maintenance activities into scheduled ones.”

To stay connected, Teledyne Controls’ GroundLink system allows flight data to be accessed from multiple sources, giving operators complete system independence. However, Murray Skelton, Teledyne’s senior director of aircraft solution strategy, says that while many airlines talk about having a connected fleet, there aren’t many that have achieved it, with the exception of a few pioneers like Qantas.

“For the majority, total connectivity is still in its infancy,” he said. “Other than [aircraft communications, addressing and reporting system], there is little connectivity between the aircraft and the ground. What high-speed connectivity links and advancements in AID are achieving is enabling the ‘flow’ of data in real time. In areas such as weather reporting and turbulence avoidance, this is crucial. A report received via ‘traditional’ ACARS every fifteen minutes is by definition ‘historic’ and mostly out of date compared to information being delivered in real time, especially when it comes to such dynamic events as weather.”

Sean P. Reilly, vice president of business development at Avionica LLC, explains that the interesting thing about high-speed (Ka/Ku-Band – SATCOM) connections is they are really only for passenger use. “Crews have very limited use of this without having a properly secured connection,” he explains. “AIDs and Wireless Access Points need to have security controls to be able to cross the ICAO-defined domains. So to connect to the passenger domain, you must meet security requirements to protect the connection.”

Avionica has solved this problem with its aviONS onboard network server. This FAA-approved solution crosses these domains and provides connectivity to crews.

“Avionica is also using an L-Band SBB (Swift Broadband) connection that is not subject to weather issues, thus giving the connection greater reliability,” Reilly adds. “Now that the connection is reliable, moving application data to the crew becomes more efficient for the operator. Weather, enhanced tracking, even passenger details in the event of a missed connection due to late flights are improved with AIDS and onboard servers like Avionica’s aviONS. aviONS’ open architecture design allows the airline to build their own applications for their specific operational needs.”

CMC’s Crew Information System addresses the ever-increasing requirements for information sharing associated with cockpit, cabin and aircraft maintenance systems.CMC Electronics

Improved AID Capabilities

AIDs can help the flight crew in many ways. Pilots can dynamically update flight plans based on real-time weather or environmental conditions. “The AID computes an optimum flight profile based on access to the real-time aircraft performance from the avionics systems, updated weather information from the high-speed connectivity, and inputs and constraints entered by the pilot,” said William Baumgarten, InteliSight business development leader at Collins Aerospace. “The result is an optimum flight path which reduces fuel burn and flight time.”

With access to real-time fleet data, a ground crew can provide guidance when aircraft are deviating from their approved flight path; can support inflight troubleshooting initiatives to resolve a technical issue; and can have an accurate measure of the aircraft health as well as improve their fleet tracking.

“AIDs and AIS support applications that can help expedite pre-flight and post-flight procedures either through delivering wirelessly to the aircraft all the necessary flight-planning material prior to takeoff or by supporting applications that streamline the workflow to manage defects,” Huynh-Belanger says. “The numbers of use-cases are limitless and we are seeing operators getting very creative when the time comes to exploit this system to gain in efficiency and in competitive advantage.”

Skelton explains one of the very latest benefits that AIDs-enhanced connectivity enables is the crowd-sourcing of data, meaning the information transmitted from individual aircraft is gathered and shared with other aircraft in real or near-real time.

“Crowd-sourced data can be further enhanced using ADS-B (Automatic Dependence Surveillance Broadcast), allowing aircraft to view the impact of weather and turbulence of other aircraft on similar trajectory, removing the need for PIREPS, and again further enhancing safety, improving operational efficiency and ensuring the best passenger flight experience of each flight,” he said.

Other new capabilities enabled by the AID and high-speed connectivity include streaming flight data off the aircraft during the flight.

“This is equivalent to the black-box data being available near real-time and would eliminate the need to search for the flight data recorder following an incident,” Baumgarten from Collins Aerospace said.

Another trend is the ability to deliver a common user experience for operators with mixed fleets. “The AID coupled with the high-speed connectivity can provide an experience and capability for legacy aircraft that mirrors the functionality being delivered on new “connected” aircraft platforms, such as the Airbus A320neo or Boeing 787,” Skelton added.

AID Future

Skelton contends AIDs need platforms to run their applications and to fully take advantage in the future, airborne app servers will be required for next-generation connected applications. “Historical data, such as that through traditional ACARS, is by definition dated, and of limited value,” he said. “ACARS over IP, however, is a different story altogether. It will allow for all manner of future benefits, including real-time dashboards on the performance of aircraft systems that may impact future MRO.”

Huynh-Belanger of CNC Electronics predicts the aircraft industry is moving toward a fully-integrated solution for seamless operations across the organization ecosystem. “The vast capabilities and benefits an advanced AID offers will always be bound to the level of security that can be ensured, demonstrated and certified. The eEnabled aircraft market is growing at tremendous speed and so are the possibilities. This is why we develop secure solutions that are flexible, with a product vision for opportunities and growth, so they can be built on to address tomorrow’s needs.”