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Full stream ahead

Posted 30 May 2019 · Add Comment

The two-day Connected Aircraft event, at the MOC Conference Centre in Munich, Germany was held recently as part of the aerospace technology week. Steve Nichols was there.

Avionics, connectivity, cyber security, air traffic management and e-enablement – you name it and the technology was on show in Munich.
The event also featured an extensive exhibition with three conference streams for delegates, plus a smaller stream for workshops.
The conference was opened by moderator Woodrow Bellamy, editor in chief, Access Intelligence, who said that in-flight connectivity had moved from being just about satellites and networks. “It’s a real driving force,” he explained.
“One of the exciting things we are working on with Qantas is turbulence forecasting,” he said. “Using high-speed connectivity brings quality graphics to weather reporting in the cockpit.
“Digital pharma is also using in-flight connectivity to monitor the temperatures of products for confirmation of medicine integrity. We have equipped aircraft with internet of things (IoT) sensors from SITAONAIR to feed information to the ground via an IoT Edge gateway.”
Warren Lampitt, director, flight technical, Air Canada, said: “We’ve seen an explosion in activity in connected aircraft. We are able to use small, very powerful tablets and inexpensive satellite connectivity in the cockpit.”
Captain Jason Brown, Air Canada, added: “One of the key developments we have done is in reducing paper and homogenising all the data in one place. Multiple legacy systems have been affected. There is still quite a lot of work to be done. We have also worked with Gogo and the Weather Company on crowd-sourced turbulence reporting. We are also looking at predictive maintenance.”
Gogo’s US-based air-to-ground and global satellite communication network is used to send the reports for immediate action in flight operations and weather forecasting.
Traditionally, flight operations personnel, pilots and aviation meteorologists received coded verbal reports with limited information on flight conditions, also known as PIREPS. Due to multiple reasons, including a lack of cockpit data connectivity, pilots were not able to get real-time updates.
Using the Gogo network, pilots in the cockpit are able to access real-time turbulence reports and forecaster-created alerts through Weather Company’s flight planning and operations applications like WSI Fusion, WSI Pilotbrief, and aircraft communication displays.
“We have a lot of work to do to manage our spares and our maintenance teams. The biggest change is the process to get people to see the true benefits of predictive maintenance. One of our staff commented ‘You want me to fix things before they break?’, so there is some education work to be completed,” Brown said.
“We are looking at hardware solutions to adopt better cyber security. We are also looking at a dedicated Wi-Fi network for the aircrew. We continue to leverage our work with Gogo, but are also looking at SwiftBroadband Safety.”
Mehmet Emin Yildiz, system engineer, avionics and electrical systems, AeroLogic, said his company is also interested in paperless cockpits, with digital charts, maps, electronic technical log books (eTLB), and digital document distribution.
AeroLogic serves as a platform for DHL Express and Lufthansa Cargo.
“L-band [Inmarsat SwiftBroadband] is more than good enough for the amount of data we are sending,” he said.
“We aim to reduce our aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) data costs by 80%. We are still using floppy disks to update aircraft systems, which can be very problematic. We want to get rid of the physical media and are moving towards moving the data over the cellular network. This will bypass all the hassles we have today.
“Our moving-map app will replace the paper charts, complete with a plot of where the aircraft is in real-time, by hooking up to the GPS,” he said.
“Real-time weather information will also give a clearer view of current and future weather hazards along the flight plan. This will bring enhanced situational awareness, lower fuel consumption and longer engine lifetime.”
Lisa Gladines, digital services manager, Airbus SAS, said: “Connectivity makes our lives easier, so why shouldn’t it be the same in the air?
“We’ve implemented new secured technologies to leverage all connectivity opportunities – improving performance and reducing costs, empowering the crews to generate value, flying safely and efficiently leveraging the personal experience.”
In the main exhibition area, Cobham Satcom showed its compact AVIATOR S terminal for Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S).
The small, lightweight, HELGA (HLD and Enhanced LGA) antenna reduces the required number of line-replaceable units (LRUs) on the aircraft from four to two and enables real-time, secure in-flight connectivity.
The Cobham AVIATOR S equipment can provide future air navigation system (FANS) 1/A controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) and automatic dependent surveillance - contract (ADS-C) capability as well as IP data to electronic flight bags (EFBs) in the cockpit.
The ACARS and IP data pipes allow network integration with a portfolio of data hosting and transmitting components on the aircraft, such as the on-board maintenance computers and devices used by the crew to service passengers.
The system will also meet the requirement for FANS 1/A operation and satisfy expected requirements for NextGen and Link2000+ interoperability.
The AVIATOR S systems provides faster communications, continual positional awareness for flight tracking, flight data streaming and real-time applications, such as networked graphical weather.
Other benefits of the service include enhanced airline safety with services such as ‘black box in the cloud’, as well as asset utilisation, security and operational efficiency in the form of more fuel-efficient routes, and the ability to transmit vital aircraft performance and positioning data in real time.
Teledyne Controls was showing its GroundLink system, which supports multiple applications across operations, providing real-time data streaming, cabin/crew connectivity, wireless data distribution and upload, automated flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) data and more, all through one single unit.
The system’s new GroundLink AID+ feature provides off-board communication, access to aircraft parameters, and data management capability to wired and WiFi-enabled EFBs and other crew devices.
But if you want real-time data streaming, you need a satcom solution.
“Real-time data streaming over satellite can happen right now,” Murray Skelton, senior director of aircraft solution strategy, Teledyne Controls, said. “By the end of the year we will have 400 e-Enabled aircraft. ACARS-wise it is even more.
But real-time high bandwidth data via satellites costs thousands. Is it actually worth it? “That depends upon you,” he said.
“The trick is to look for potential problems – outliers or measurements that are out of the normal range. Predictive maintenance is a very important tool, but if you can get machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) on board an aircraft, you can get smarter data off the aircraft.
“This data can be triggered automatically. This is the real growth area for connected aircraft. Not more data, but better data,” he said. “We are looking at AI systems that can process that data while you are in flight.”
But if you have connectivity on the aircraft, what more as an industry should we be using it for?
“Real-time fuel burn optimisation while in flight is a boon. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars made in fuel savings,” Skelton said.
He said significant cost savings could also be made with ACARS messages that are transferred via cellular and satellite IP-based broadband in all flight phases. This relieves congestion on VHF ACARS networks.
“Connecting your EFBs to receive live weather updates is another option. Live graphical weather is an expensive operation and uses a lot of bandwidth,” he added.
But smart weather, that uses crowd-sourced data from other aircraft, is a potential winner.
“ADS-B will give you positional data of all the aircraft around you. If you link that to weather information received on the ground from those same aircraft, you should be able to find out what the weather is like on your flight path,” he said.
“It is cost versus benefit – the airline has to decide. The only real takeaway is that if you don’t have a connected aircraft you are losing out,” Skelton concluded.
Next year’s aerospace technology week will take place in Toulouse on March 18-19.
 

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