Archive For The “Connectivity” Category

Innovative Aerospace Technologies Go Mainstream in 2018

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As we look over the technology landscape, several innovative technologies are moving from concept into production as new aircraft and engine programs reach the market.  Let’s take a look at those that will soon explode in volume and provide intriguing opportunities as they move from R&D to mainstream.

Big Data and Analytics
Virtually every new aircraft and engine program features “health management systems” that enable monitoring of a number of parameters and to predict when maintenance action might be required before an in-service failure.  The benefits of these programs are promising, but require the OEMs to store and analyze petabytes of data to implement these predictive benefits.

This will require massive data storage facilities, new analytical software, and communications capabilities to alert operators around the world to potential problems.  Almost every OEM has a control center with multiple computer monitors tracking their customers and equipment in service in real-time around the world.  These are complex systems, with the massive investment required, to generate the benefits of data for their customers by reducing catastrophic maintenance events and minimizing schedule disruptions.

In the narrow-body world, the C Series and E2 Jets are farther advanced than the A320neo and 737 MAX families in this regard, while the 787 and A350 lead the charge in wide-body aircraft.  In the engine side, GE’s Digital Twin concepts go beyond traditional health management and may be the most advanced application in its class.

Additive Manufacturing goes Mainstream
The new Advanced Turboprop Engine from GE has about 35% of its parts produced using additive manufacturing.  The benefits of additive include the ability to create designs and shapes that would be difficult using conventional techniques, and lighter weight components.  In the ATP, 855 individual parts are replaced with 12, reducing complexity and maintenance cost while providing improved performance.

At the same time, research and development into additive manufacturing technologies will result in faster processing to enable more rapid completion of complex parts, which are relatively slow to build today.  Our projection is for a doubling of speed in 2018 and a redoubling of speeds in 2019 as refinements are made in these technologies.

Innovative technologies using titanium have resulted in Norsk Titanium building a specialized facility in upstate New York to produce additively manufactured components from titanium in a unique, hybrid process.  Their 787 parts can be ordered one day and shipped overnight the next to a customer, perhaps a precursor to the next generation MRO facility that will have high-speed 3D printing capabilities instead of racks of parts inventories.

We’re seeing additive manufactured parts on engines from the GTF and LEAP, with large-scale applications on the ATP.  Additive has arrived.

Out of Autoclave Composite Materials Streamline Manufacturing
The composite materials utilized for most aircraft today are thermoset pre-pregs that require “baking” in a pressurized autoclave to “set” the polymers to form strong but lightweight structures.  Today, the second generation of composites is emerging, with materials that can be produced “out of autoclave” and do not need a pressurized high-temperature manufacturing process.  Speeding the manufacturing process, at lower energy costs, is viewed favorably by aircraft OEMs, who are looking closely at alternative materials  We see the industry gradually moving away from traditional thermoset materials to thermoplastic materials that include PEEK and PEKK materials, and to lower cost thermoset pre-preg materials.   While this transition will not be complete until the next generation of aircraft is introduced, those new materials are being tested and evaluated today for future programs.

Ceramic-Matrix Composites
CMCs are a unique set of composite materials that are formulated with silicon chemistries and have unique high-temperature applications in aircraft engines.  GE is utilizing CMCs in the LEAP engine, which requires a massive ramp-up of CMC production for the first high volume civil application.  With the same weight and strength benefits of composites over metal, plus an additional 400 degrees in temperature resistance, these components will prove valuable as future aircraft engines increase pressure ratios and operating temperatures.

Advanced Avionics for Autonomous Aircraft Operations
While we aren’t quite ready to eliminate pilots from aircraft, the aviation industry has the capability today to take off, navigate, and land aircraft without a pilot.  The drone industry is growing substantially, and the ability to remotely control an aircraft provides the potential for safety improvements.

The aviation industry pioneered autonomous operations and remains well ahead of the auto industry in this leading-edge technology.  Autopilots and flight management systems are complex avionics systems that are becoming more and more sophisticated, and could soon provide the fail-safes that will enable single-pilot plus computer/ground backup operations.  The technology is ready, although passenger and union (not to mention regulatory) acceptance remain in the future.

The Bottom Line
Technology integration into commercial aerospace is accelerating, with a focus on materials, manufacturing process, control systems and IT.  The next generation, currently in R&D, will provide even more advances as nanotechnology and quantum computing bring new possibilities.  We are entering an exciting time of change for our industry.

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Panasonic Avionics Unveils Third Generation Satellite Communications Network

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At the Las Vegas CES, Panasonic Avionics Corporation introduced a “major evolution of its satellite connectivity service” with the introduction of its third generation communications network.

The company’s PR states that its third generation network is built to meet the growing connectivity demands of airlines and their passengers. Throughout the first quarter of 2018, aircraft from a number of airlines will be transitioned to Panasonic’s new network. In addition, Panasonic subsidiary, ITC Global, will leverage Panasonic’s new broadband network to deliver connectivity to its energy, maritime and enterprise customers.

Hideo Nakano, Panasonic Avionics Corporation CEO, says: “Our new satellite communications network is more than just greater bandwidth – it represents a major evolution in our approach to partnering with customers to deliver the highest standards of service and to ensure that their passengers enjoy an unmatched, connected experience inflight.”

The new communications network is built on Panasonic’s high throughput satellite service, which today covers all dense mobility traffic areas around the globe with high throughput spot beams and wide overlay beams that support Panasonic’s global in-flight television service. When combined with the rollout of the company’s new satellite modem, developed in conjunction with Newtec, Panasonic now offers bandwidth up to twenty times greater than previously available. This supports the provision of services such as a fast internet, video streaming, VoIP applications, improved TV picture quality and a broader channel choice, the capability to offer 3G phone services, and greater bandwidth for crew applications.

The network is backed by a range of new measures Panasonic has launched to provide higher levels of support to its customers. These initiatives are channeled through Panasonic’s new Customer Performance Center, which drives enhanced network performance, reduced outage times, and faster response and resolution times for all customer inquiries.  The Customer Performance Center offers a range of value-added services including traffic shaping tools, live monitoring and management of the user experience, and Panasonic’s ZeroTouch service, which enables real-time content loading, validation, and management.

Currently, over 1,800 aircraft around the world use Panasonic’s global high-speed in-flight connectivity service. The company expects more than 10,000 aircraft to be connected to its world-class global high-speed communications network by 2025.

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Major Changes in EFB Applications

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The FAA has made a 180-degree turn in its attitude towards the display of own-ship position on electronic flight bags.  Advisory Circular AC120-76D eliminated the prohibition from using geo-referencing or own-ship position displays while using moving map features on an EFB in the air.  Using geo-referencing on the ground has always been acceptable.

This applied to operators under Part 91, 91K, 121, 125, and 135.  Operators from parts 91K to 135 require FAA approval of their EFB programs, but Part 91 operators can use EFBs as they wish, without formal approvals.

This will enable many general aviation pilots operating under Part 91 to gain the benefits of moving map technology on their iPads without having to replace their steam-gauge panels with glass cockpits.  As the sophistication of EFB applications from companies like Jeppesen (Boeing) and ForeFlight has increased and the ability to demonstrate the accuracy of positioning information, the FAA became more comfortable with the use of position-information in flight.

EFB classification has also been eliminated, and the former Classes 1, 2, and 3 are now history.  The new definition of an EFB is “a device displaying EFB applications.”  That could, in the near future, turn out to be a smartphone as well as an iPad.

In other changes, operators can make changes to their EFB programs without contacting their FAA principal inspector.  The approval and updating process for EFB applications has gotten easier.

The Bottom Line:
EFBs are here to stay and have proven themselves.  While for hire operations still require FAA approved EFB programs, the regulatory process has been streamlined, reflecting the reliability and sophistication of many EFB apps.  The FAA is keeping up with technology, and recognizing the capabilities of an EFB.

This should result in the industry-leading applications that are approved by the FAA expanding their productivity and utility in the cockpit.

Now if we could only get ADSB into an EFB…..

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The World’s Best Selling Business Jet Improves

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The Embraer Phenom 300 is the world’s best selling business jet, and a new model, the 300E was introduced at NBAA this year. The 300E, with the E standing for “Enhanced” sports an elegant redesigned cabin and a new cabin management and in-flight entertainment system from Lufthansa Technik.

First delivered in 2009, the Phenom 300 has been the best selling business jet since 2013, with more than 400 aircraft delivered in 40 countries. The new 300E version will begin deliveries in early 2018.

“We are very excited to introduce the Phenom 300E which sets a new standard in value and customer experience. The Phenom 300E reflects our commitment to fascinate our customers,” said Michael Amalfitano, President & CEO, Embraer Executive Jets. “With a passion for excellence, our team has been working closely with customers to bring to market yet another beautifully designed and brilliantly engineered marvel of aviation.”

The following video highlights the recent changes to the 300E.

Embraer designs and manufactures its own seats, and the new interior offers a number of advances in comfort and personalization. The seat profile includes a built in headrest, retractable armrest, new table, side ledge, side walls and valance designs. The seats also include extendable leg rests, and seat bolsters provide improved ergonomics, as shown in the photo below.

Performance of the 300E ranks among the best it its class, with a high speed cruise of 453 knots, an a range with six occupants of 1,971 nautical miles. The aircraft, powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535E engines, is capable of flying at 45,000 ft.

Bottom Line: The best selling business jet in its class continues to improve – on time and on-budget.

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ViaSat update on airline connectivity

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We had a brief conversation with Don Buchman, ViaSat’s VP Commercial Mobility.

  • What is the state of the US airline industry connectivity?
    The industry is almost fully outfitted. This makes it the highest concentration worldwide. But we are moving to “second gen”, where it is no longer good enough to have WiFi. It has to be good WiFi.  Bad WiFi hurts an airline brand.

(There are four serving US domestic airlines: GoGo, Panasonic, Global Eagle and ViaSat.  But worldwide there are several more. Here’s a list of each US airline and its WiFi service rated by Gizmodo.)

  • How about outside the US?
    It’s definitely lagging.  There’s a different demographic.  Europe is very similar to the US. The catching up is on long-haul. For example, Qantas chose to wait for a service that was similar to that of JetBlue.  They experimented with several solutions before they made their selection. On the other hand, British Airways has two solutions, one for intra-EU flights and another one for long-haul service.
  • Looking five years out, how might the market evolve?
    Market forces will make an impact – either the revenues won’t meet expectations forcing some out of the business or technology products won’t keep up. For ViaSat, they are taking a long-term view, with a 15-year horizon. You want to ensure your customer will still be in business in 15 years’ time.  For the most part, the airline industry seems to be in a different place than it was ten years ago – Monarch notwithstanding. Consolidation has helped.  Most airlines are going to try reach where JetBlue was five years ago.  The APEX event in Long Beach is an interesting example.  Two social media people shared their takeoffs, one on a JetBlue flight and one on another airline. The JetBlue passenger was able to live stream his video on Periscope. The other had to wait until he got home and had fast enough internet to share this video.
  • Looking at the economics of the business – unless airlines utilize the connectivity the business model struggles.
    Definitely, in the next five years, flight ops will see that connectivity is the “killer app”. Airlines may be at different paces. A lot of value is going to come out of the flight ops. We think more than the value of connectivity will come via flight ops – it could take five years or a bit longer. Over the long term more of the value of connectivity is going to come out of flight ops. We are already seeing several airlines using ViaSat technology, simple ones like content loading. There’s a lot of value in the cockpit like avoiding weather. It’s the tip of the iceberg.   Before the cost of the bandwidth was so cost prohibitive. As the crew sees what can be done it sets the wheels turning. They are going to find innovative ways to use bandwidth.

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Lufthansa’s “OpSession”

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Lufthansa provided this PR: “As of this week, Lufthansa has been providing its 20,000 flight attendants with iPad Minis. The so-called cabin mobile device (CMD) will be provided to the entire cabin crew over the next few weeks. This is a major and – above all – visible step in the year of digitization at Lufthansa.
In the cockpit, the so-called Electronic Flight Bag has already been in operation since the beginning of 2015 and is used by 4,300 pilots for flight planning and operations. Simultaneously, cabin crew managers received tablets, which will now be extended to include all cabin crew as a result of the positive experience.
The CMD will allow cabin crew members to access all the data they need to work on board, to access important service manuals and service schedules, and easily view any changes in plans. With the “Lufthansa crewFlight” apps, the seating plan is quickly opened, providing the cabin crew with plenty of information on guests of their next flight.
The CMD heralds a new way of “paperless” working and simplifies existing processes so that staff
have more time for customers. Moreover, it significantly improves communication with the personnel on board.
The Cabin Mobile Device project is a major part of a current transformation program called ‘OPSession’, which aims to further digitize the operational areas of Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines. Employees lacking a fixed workplace will be equipped with mobile devices to meet the needs of the customer in a more productive and personalized manner.”

What does this imply?  The airline is racing to extract maximum value from its fleet connectivity.  We have long held the view that in-flight connectivity is tough to reach payback because the user base willing to, and able to, pay for in-flight WiFi is small.  To ensure optimal value is achieved, airlines need to derive flight operations value from this facility.  Lufthansa showed its commitment to this after many gave it up, in the post Boeing Conexxion era.  The airline may not be the leader in the field of extracting maximum value, but its commitment is clear.  There are going to be more benefits that will come out of this decision.  These benefits may not be defined yet, but they will emerge.  No industry has not benefitted from extending connectivity into its operations.

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