Avionics Digital Edition
Found inFeature

Avionics Upgrades Drive Efficiency — But When and Where?

Mandates propel upgrade spending.

Avionics upgrades run the gamut of cockpit functions. But which will add the most value and when? Which are the most popular and why?

Frost & Sullivan pegs retrofit spending in commercial and business aviation at about $3 billion, according to that firm’s director of aerospace and defense, Diogenis Papiomytis. The biggest segments in current fit and retrofit overall are navigation, surveillance and communications, in that order. The surveillance market, at $3.8 billion, is the fastest-growing one, thanks to ADS-B and head-up display (HUD) mandates.

HUDs have been “massively embraced and regulated” in the Chinese market, said Rockwell Collins’ senior director of commercial systems marketing, Craig Peterson. That company is a major HUD provider. Reasons for adoption include the ability to see through smog and fly with increased precision, safety and situational awareness. HUD technology is “on the cusp of becoming mandated and embraced elsewhere,” he predicted.

Papiomytis added: “I would expect more countries to follow suit,” especially in areas of heavy airspace congestion, like Asia and the Middle East.


Unlike HUDs, ADS-B Out is required in U.S. airspace by January 2020 — except for the airlines that have obtained a five-year waiver. The European deadline hits in mid-2020.

ADS-B Out is expected to increase system-level efficiency, allowing air traffic controllers to safely squeeze more aircraft into airspace. Some ground surveillance radars can be decommissioned because air traffic controllers will be getting pings from ADS-B.

ADS-B Out is required in U.S. airspace by January 2020.Image courtesy of ACSS

Part of the ADS-B Out solution is a wide-area augmentation system (WAAS) GPS receiver, which drives a precise and high-integrity signal to the transponders, explained Gary Harpster, senior avionics sales representative at Duncan Aviation. If you add this receiver to the solution as a standalone receiver — not coupled to the autopilot or flight director — you’ve met the letter of the mandate, he said. However, “it doesn’t do a whole lot for additional capabilities to the crew.” ADS-B Out, by itself, can be seen as essentially shifting the burden of surveillance coverage from the FAA to the operators.

More than a transponder hookup is necessary if an operator wants to reap benefits like WAAS-enabled precision procedures. A flight management system upgrade can enable an airplane to fly localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) low-visibility approaches. Today’s 3,814 WAAS LPV approach procedures serve 1,857 airports, 1,097 of which lack instrument landing system (ILS) infrastructure. These procedures reduce fuel consumption, flight times and carbon dioxide emissions.


ADS-B In offers more direct benefits to operators but requires additional equipment. The benefits depend on attaining a critical mass of users at some future date.

ADS-B In functionality includes traffic awareness applications. Although these aren’t a “huge needle mover” yet, Peterson said, he pointed to a scenario in which a 747 could pass a slower 757 over the ocean, outside of radar surveillance. If the traffic application could give the 747 pilot guidance, awareness and cues on how to pass and avoid other traffic, it could drive fuel, time and operations efficiencies, he said.

Neighboring airplanes would have to have ADS-B as well, he conceded, “so if you’re overtaking a Chinese aircraft, it may not have ADS-B.” But a large percentage of traffic on North Atlantic routes will be European or U.S. airplanes, Peterson said. Because of mandates, these airplanes will have a high level of ADS-B equipage. Also, Aireon this year has launched two batches of Iridium Next satellites with ADS-B payloads and plans six more launches in the next year, so coverage will become worldwide.

Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and ACSS offer traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) units that are capable of processing ADS-B In data, which can be presented on an electronic flight bag (EFB) or a multifunction display (MFD). Traffic awareness displays may also migrate to personal electronic devices (PEDs). ACSS and others in the industry are considering how ADS-B In data can be displayed on PEDs on the flight deck.

Rockwell Collins presents ADS-B In traffic information on its avionics-grade navigation display — the same screen that shows TCAS targets and maps, Peterson said. However, the ADS-B efficiency information is handled by a separate processor — the “traffic computer” — in the TCAS box.

ACSS’ TCAS 3000SP processes received ADS-B Out traffic information from neighboring aircraft and provides traffic and ADS-B In data to the flight crew on a cockpit display of traffic information hosted (CDTI) application on the Astronautics Class 3 EFB. Its SafeRoute applications also can be displayed on MFDs.

ACSS' SafeRoute applications can be displayed on multifunctional displays.Photo courtesy of ACSS

Honeywell’s SmartTraffic 100 TCAS system has optional ADS-B In functionality, said Jeff Merdich, VP of cockpit systems. Part of Primus Epic, these functions “considerably increase aircraft performance efficiencies” through fuel savings of up to $100,000 a year for each aircraft, he added. In 2016, the company introduced more ADS-B In functions to its air transport TCAS unit, including enhanced visual acquisition, airborne and surface surveillance, visual separation on approach and in-trail procedure.

EFBs: Coming or Going?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that old-style EFBs are on their way out. “Conventional EFBs have essentially run their cycle,” Duncan’s Harpster said. Some operators spent two or three years evaluating the market before buying an EFB, only to find that the product wasn’t well supported, he said. Duncan strongly suggests, from an economic standpoint, that people go with iPads because of factors like longer battery life and reliability.

Although there’s still a market for specialized EFBs, tablets are replacing them in many cockpits. UPS, for example, in 2013 began migrating to “electronic flight kits” hosted on iPads. The consumer devices “are not perfect, but I think they have wildly disrupted the EFB marketplace,” Peterson said.

EFBs can cost 10 times more than a tablet, and require special maintenance and certification, Peterson said. While there are still commercial applications for EFBs, that “has to be balanced with affordability.” A $250 tablet “can do thousands of applications and make you paperless.”

Still, commercial aviation is not rushing for the exits. Frost & Sullivan sees “growing demand for Class 3 EFBs” on new airliners. But Papiomytis conceded that the expensive gear is unlikely to replace classic avionics as EFBs are “outside of the pilot’s cross-check space and will be ignored during the critical phases of the flight.”

The main obstacle to the further use of consumer electronics such as iPads on board relates to security, Papiomytis said. “The truth is the airlines and OEMs don’t know exactly the extent of the risk, which is why iPads and other consumer electronics will remain peripheral support tools with limited functionality,” he argued.

Connectivity and Data

Avionics manufacturers also are harnessing the increasing volumes of data flowing in and out of airplanes. Papiomytis points to the growing “sensorization” of aircraft, which he describes as the use of sensors — beyond traditional radars and such in the cockpit — to capture performance data, which then drives the need for more analytics and higher communications bandwidths. Rockwell Collins, among others, builds routers that move the data around and radios that connect Wi-Fi to the ground.

“Pilots and crews think of Wi-Fi/internet as an efficiency gain,” Harpster said. “It gives them a form of communication to maintain contact with people at the home office.”

If crews have a problem with an engine gauge, for example, they can send a message, even a video, so maintenance teams can see exactly what’s happening and change it out upon landing, Harpster said. Duncan has installed Wi-Fi capability on more than 600 airplanes.

“The cockpit is moving toward a more digital experience,” said Honeywell’s director of flight support services, Kiah Erlich. The company’s GoDirect offerings include more than 100 software products.

Honeywell's GoDirect Flight Preview allows pilots to preview approach procedures on their iPads via traditional 2D charts or in 3D graphical simulations.Photo courtesy of Honeywell

GoDirect Flight Preview, for example, allows pilots to preview approach procedures on their iPads via traditional 2D charts or in 3D graphical simulations. The Weather Information Service app helps flight crews anticipate changing conditions along their routes to ease planning for alternate routes and reduce fuel consumption.

GoDirect Fuel Efficiency features more data crunching. It combs through data from an airline’s information technology systems to analyze fuel consumption trends across a fleet, said Erlich. Using more than 100 reports, operators can discover where fuel savings potential lies and drill down to fuel efficiency per plane, flight path or landing pattern. Used by carriers such as Jet Airways, Etihad Airways, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Turkish Airlines, the tool “can reduce annual fuel usage by up to 5%, saving up to $500,000 per aircraft per year,” said Erlich.

GoDirect Connected Maintenance, meanwhile, “shares fault data from an auxiliary power unit (APU) and recommendations for action” with maintainers, said Honeywell’s VP of

connected aircraft, Kristin Slyker. “Airlines could cut [APU] inoperative equipment rates by up to 86%” with this tool. Hainan Airlines is the first to officially adopt the service.

UPS Drives Ahead

UPS’ upgrade of its 52 A300s adds many efficiency enhancements. WAAS LPV capability, for example, will enable the airplanes to land at smaller airports in inclement weather where ILS systems are minimal or nonexistent, the company said.

Based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic business avionics suite, the upgrade will extend airplanes’ lives for 20 years, Merdich said. New liquid crystal displays, for example, are expected to increase reliability and reduce weight.

Honeywell’s Primus Epic® will be retrofitted on UPS’s fleet, extending the life of UPS’s aircraft for 20 years.Photo courtesy of Honeywell

Among the project’s high points is a flight management computer (FMC) whose memory can sustain a worldwide navigational database, with a 7% increase in size per year, until at least 2035, said UPS Avionics/Systems Project Manager James McLeroy. The current FMC lacks “adequate storage for a U.S. domestic database.” As a result, “UPS maintains multiple databases for the A300 mission, which results in the potential for delays due to the time required to reload a database,” he explained. The new FMC’s loading time also will be greatly decreased.

The airplanes’ new central maintenance system will enable an aircraft to send customized maintenance messages to the ground while it is still in flight, McLeroy said. This will allow additional data to be prepared before the aircraft’s arrival or to gather trend data, allowing the carrier to be proactive in managing potential future issues. AVS