The current aircraft test equipment market is huge and only growing, spurred by the industry’s need to replace test equipment that is quickly becoming obsolete, but also by the need for new equipment to satisfy the requirements of novel technologies appearing on new aircraft models, such as Bombardier’s C Series and Airbus’ A350. According to a report released in May on the Global Aviation Test Equipment market by research consulting firm Stratistics, the test equipment market was valued at $5.64 billion in 2014, and is projected to reach $7.56 billion by 2022, growing at Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.7 percent per year.
Test equipment manufacturers such as Astronics and Cobham AvComm note that upcoming airspace mandates are proving to be an energetic force in the market in the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, powered by commercial airline expansion and communications infrastructure upgrades, the Asia-Pacific is growing at an enormous rate and threatening to overtake North America as the largest player in the market.
The aging of existing capital equipment, the need to update equipment and an increase in capital spending across most markets are driving growth in the test equipment sector, according to Steve Fairbanks, senior director of test instruments at Astronics. This is backed up by Avionics Magazine’s 2016 Test Equipment survey, in which 65 percent of readers say they need to acquire new test equipment or upgrade components for their existing test systems.
“From military [Automated Test Equipment] ATE to commercial instruments we have seen an increase in demand,” says Fairbanks, referring to the pick up the company has seen in the last year primarily in North America but also in the Asia-Pacific markets. “In the military markets, there are budget pressures for the sustainment of equipment well beyond its original useful life. This puts pressure on the maintenance and repair of those assets, which shifts the test equipment needs from production to repair. Keeping these legacy test platforms going for well beyond their expected life produces some difficult challenges for service and support.”
As government-driven funding constraints shrink budgets for new equipment, companies and technicians are looking to expand the life of existing test equipment. Fairbanks says the company is working to design products that alleviate obsolescence issues associated with keeping test equipment in service longer. He points to the T940 digital test subsystem, designed primarily for future digital test capability, but also looks to allow technicians to replace existing or aging digital subsystems in their legacy systems.
David Barrette, avionics tooling analyst at Delta TechOps, a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility associated with Delta Air Lines that services several different commercial aircraft types, also identifies obsolescence as a constant issue for the company. He marks this as an issue not directly related to budget constraints, although he notes that technicians at Delta TechOps look to use a system for as long as it is capable of performing optimally, but also as an issue that arises as test equipment manufacturers begin to phase out parts for existing equipment.
“Obsolescence is a huge issue because you can’t procure the parts to repair the test systems you have, so you have to buy new equipment,” said Barrette, who is currently in the process of updating the company’s air data testers as the systems are becoming obsolete.
Astronics also identifies manufacturer and carrier consolidation as an issue the company looks to combat by designing systems that can cater to multiple OEM product lines in order to keep newer test systems from becoming obsolete as well.
While smaller and smarter equipment is on the wish list of every technician, just over 50 percent of the respondents to our 2016 Test Equipment survey are looking to purchase new equipment to sat isfy an aircraft service performance or operational requirement. Many of these new requirements are fueled by airspace mandates in conjunction with air transportation system modernization initiatives, such as Europe’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) initiative, and NextGen in the United States.
“FAA’s NextGen has been the hottest market driver of late ... Mandates involving avionics always drive change, upgrades and business. And, as with most mandates, time is slipping away for NextGen,” says Guy Hill, director of the avionics business unit at Cobham AvComm. In 2014, Cobham acquired Aeroflex, the company that has consistently been the most-used test equipment manufacturer according to our Avionics Magazine Test Equipment surveys. Fifty percent of respondents reported they used this equipment in our 2016 survey, while a whopping 63 percent reported using Aeroflex equipment in 2015.
Hill reports that the company maintains its market leadership by constantly looking to stay ahead of the game. Currently, it is setting its sights on making equipment available for upcoming mandates, such as the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out requirement that will come into effect for most users in airspace in the United States on Jan. 1, 2020, and Europe by June 2020.
“ADS-B will create more demand for support equipment to help facilitate compliance of the 170,000 aircraft requiring an equipment update,” says Hill. The FAA released estimates earlier this year that projected 100,000 aircraft will still need to equip with ADS-B Out systems in order to remain compliant when the deadline rolls around. In recent years, the company has added ADS-B test capability for 1090 MHz and 978 MHz in its ramp test set with its IFR 6000/6015 flightline test set designed for testing transponder modes A/C/S, 1090 MHz ADS-B and 978 MHz Universal Access Transceiver (UAT), Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) I and II, and Distance Measuring Equipment (DME).
The company also offers bench test sets that are ADS-B capable for 1090 MHz and 978 MHz spectrums. Its ATC-5000NG avionics test set is an RF signal generator/receiver for testing Mode A, C and S transponders. Its RGS-2000NG TCAS Test Set is an RF signal generator/receiver for testing TCAS with an option available for testing transponder Line Replaceable Units (LRUs).
Cobham AvComm is also set to release an application to simplify and expedite the testing process,” explains Hill. The new application, in conjunction with the company’s IFR6000 and GPSG-1000 systems, supports ADS-B equipment installation testing, Standard Type Certificate (STC) approvals and post-approval testing. It aims to help installers verify compliance and allow them to get more aircraft in and out of their hangars more quickly.
The military market is also coming up against the ADS-B Out mandate as the U.S. Air Force works toward compliance with the FAA Advisory Circular 20-165B (AC 20-165B) that requires ADS-B Out equipage for military aircraft by Jan. 1, 2020. Moreover, the new requirements set forth in NextGen and SESAR are driving advances in aircraft communications, such as the L-band Digital Aeronautical Communication System (LDACS) and Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System (AeroMACS), according to Astronics’ Matthew Hunter, vice president of new product development and advanced technologies. LDACS is a broadband system based on Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) modulation that shares many technical features with 3G and 4G wireless communications systems. AeroMACS is a mobile and fixed broadband wireless communications network that aims to enhance airport surface communications.
“These advances require test equipment that can support their expanded capability. For example, AeroMACS is based on the WiMAX standard and operates in the 5091 MHz to 5150 MHz band,” he says. In anticipation of such advances, Astronics Test Systems is offering its new CTS-6000 Series Communications Test Set, which operates from 1 MHz to 6000 MHz and can test any signal type in this range, a range that most of the legacy communications test equipment does not reach.
Barrette of Delta TechOps says the company is preparing for the influx of new aircraft models, namely the Airbus A350 and Bombardier’s long-awaited C Series aircraft, the CS100. Delta recently announced an order for 75 CS100s with options for an additional 50 aircraft. While CS100 deliveries to Delta are not scheduled to begin until in spring 2018, Barrette says the company has already begun identifying what new equipment the maintenance technicians will need to service the aircraft. “On the CS100 we have identified that the aircraft is equipped with the new pitot-static smart probes that have [Angle of Attack] AOA encompassed into them. With that, you now need to have a three or four port air data tester in order to test that system. That is basically only for heavy checks, though. Anytime you have an issue with an aircraft on the line, you won’t have to use the new air data testers,” says Barrette. Delta TechOps has not yet decided who to purchase the equipment from and has only identified a few vendors that manufacture the new test systems: DAC International, Laversab and GE.
DAC International identified the emerging requirements surrounding the increasing use of pneumatic style AOA sensors in smart probes in place of the traditional vane-style device. To fill this void, the company set out to develop a new Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM)-compliant MPS49 Air Data Test Set, which is applicable for all types of civil and extended range, fixed or rotary wing aircraft. In fact, DAC International Vice President and General Manager Cisco Hernandez tells Avionics Magazine that the company is currently seeing its largest demand for air data equipment that can handle the testing of AOA functionality.
The company distributes the test set in the United States though DMA-Aero. DMA President Robert Knowles echoed the uptick in demand for these test sets as smart probes begin to make an appearance on new aircraft. “One interesting development over the past few years has been the increased use of smart probes, which introduced the capabilities of measuring Angle of Attack in addition to Ps and Pt,” says Knowles, noting that in addition to Bombardier’s CS100, newer aircraft types from manufacturers such as Embraer, Gulfstream and Dassault are also beginning to incorporate this capability. “Test sets cope with this with a third channel and of course the hose connections to the airplane become more complex.”
The company’s MPS49 Air Data Test Set handles this issue by providing a multiport isolation system built into the system with independent control for up to 12 connections. The instrument also has three independent channels for altitude, airspeed and AOA and has a recommended calibration cycle of up to 18 months, which aims to reduce maintenance costs. “A valuable feature of the test sets is the ability to conduct leak testing for each probe and the multiport isolator is a huge time saver for this,” Knowles adds.
While test equipment by its very nature is not very innovative, as it has to adhere to the standards set forth for the aircraft, Barrette of Delta TechOps says the company looks at new designs that support upgradeability, portability and new capabilities such as predictive maintenance when upgrading equipment.
“Everybody likes to have smarter and smaller test equipment. Some of the OEMs are making use of software and other options so they can make the equipment a little bit smaller, so we don’t need to have two mechanics handle it just to take it out to the aircraft,” said Barrette.
DMA’s Knowles says that while the industry does like new features, users are slow to adapt to new and more innovative test sets.
“Bluetooth communication has been available for more than 10 years, and while it has been a positive talking point is rarely used. Partly for this reason, we DMA introduced a smaller, lightweight air data test set ..., which can be taken into the cockpit in its entirety. However, this brings out its own set of challenges with the hose connections to the pitot tubes,” notes Knowles. AVS