Archive For The “FAA” Category

Innovative Aerospace Technologies Go Mainstream in 2018

By |

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.

Read more »

Major Changes in EFB Applications

By |

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…..

Read more »

CAAC and FAA sign bilateral airworthiness agreement

By |

An agreement between the two state aviation bodies came into effect October 17.

Under the agreement, Chinese and U.S. regulators achieved “full, reciprocal recognition” of each other’s civil aviation products, including airworthiness certification, according to the statement by CAAC.  This agreement covers the airworthiness examination and approval of design standards, production oversight, export airworthiness, technical support and other areas of cooperation, the statement says.

What does the agreement allow? This agreement would help China export domestically developed aircraft like the C919 and the ARJ-21.  FAA and EASA certification are the ideal imprimatur for COMAC.   The ARJ-21, for example, has not looked like a candidate for FAA certification.  This has limited its export potential, even at irresistible pricing.

The C919 is a different story because if (or when) it gets FAA certification via CAAC, then the potential market disruption could be significant.  Such a competitor will be of grave concern to Airbus and Boeing.  China is the great fear in the big duopoly – many people have said Boeing’s worst fear was the C Series ending up in Chinese hands.

Read more »

Privatization of ATC – The Pros and Cons

By |

Privatization of Air Traffic Control has come up on almost an annual basis for the last couple of decades, and the battle has been between the airlines, who favor the concept, and general aviation, who do not.  The rationale is that those who pay the most will receive the most representation in how ATC is managed, and the general aviation community fears that the airline community could restrict access to the system and create unfairness in charges.  But the difference in 2017 is that ATC privatization stands a better chance of passage in Congress, and has the support of President Trump.

With the news that NavCanada was providing $60M in refunds to customers, the proponents of ATC privatization received one more arrow in their quiver of arguments regarding the topic.

The Issues

The debate centers around several issues.  First, whether ATC is a function that should be provided by government, or a quasi-governmental entity.  Second is how the system is paid for, and how any user fees would be determined and administered.  Third is whether a privatized system would be dominated by the group that pays the most and utilizes the system more than anyone else, the airlines, at the expense of general aviation.

Several countries have privatized Air Traffic Control, including Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.  Proponents indicate that the process works and could be adopted in the US.  Opponents cite the close relationship between ATC and the military, the need for coordination in national defense, and the potential that small operators, such as agricultural aircraft and rural airports, could be unfairly shut out of the process.

But the US airspace system isn’t like the UK or Canada.  It is much larger and operates flights with a much higher frequency and density.   Safety levels have been high, and the modernization program to the NextGen ATC technology, while slow moving, has been effective.

There is little question that a private organization is more efficient and more effective than government.  One of the reasons for this is the ability to raise capital and not be subject to the whims of Congress and the Federal Budget.  With varying funding levels, sequestration, and other vagaries, it is not difficult to find why changes to the ATC system are slow.  While critics cite that technology is often obsolete before it is introduced, the FAA’s hands are somewhat tied by politics.  But would privatization change that? During the last recession, NavCanada had to go to the financial markets for additional funding due to recession-caused revenue shortfalls when air traffic turned downward.

Today, in the US, air traffic control is essentially free for all users.  There are no navigation charges, no fees for speaking with a control tower, no fees for filing a flight plan, and no special fees for flying on instruments.

This is different that the rest of the world, and would change under privatization.  Internationally, navigation fees are charged to airlines to cover the costs of en-route services.  Typically, charges are computed based on aircraft weight and power plant type and are levied on the terminal, en route, and oceanic airspace services used.

To be fair, the US ATC system is more productive and efficient than those in Europe, and operates without user fees.  Why then replace it?

The debate over ATC privatization, and the groups for and against it, seem more about who the who will control the operation rather than the merits of a more efficient operation, or more rapid technology development.  Today, funding is provided from the Aviation Trust Fund generated by fuel taxes that are intended to support the FAA.  Like other funds, however, Congress has co-mingled these with general funding, making it difficult to provide funding for the privatized through fuel taxes.  Given that larger aircraft burn more fuel, it is an elegant and self-regulating system that most believe is quite fair.

Airlines 4 America, the lobbying group for the airline industry, favors privatization to be able to more quickly introduce new technology to optimize airline operations and reduce costs, as shown here. But Delta Air Lines disagrees with its colleagues, as shown here.

General aviation organizations, which have been in recession in recent years, are fearful that user fees will send their segments back into recession.  Similarly, the business jet market has been making a slow recovery, and NBAA and other industry organizations are lobbying against the privatization process as being potentially unfairly administered, catering to the airlines who would provide the bulk of the usage and fees.

NBAA’s position, expounded here, is that privatization would put the airlines in charge of the system to the detriment of business aviation.  Similarly, the Experimental Aircraft Association is concerned about general aviation pilots being left out of the decision-making process, among other issues outlined here.

Other groups, including a group of rural and agricultural pilots, also oppose privatization as outlined here.

The Bottom Line – AirInsight’s Viewpoint

The core question about ATC isn’t one of efficiency, but one of control.  A solution is readily available, which is to directly fund the FAA from aviation fuel taxes and thereby enable the agency to avoid the political process in Congress for annual budgets.  Using the Aviation Trust Fund for its intended purpose (despite how rare that is in Washington) would solve many of the problems for multi-year contracting and allow the FAA to accelerate development of its NextGen programs.

The impact for airlines and general aviation would be an improved system, without the substantial user fees paid internationally.  We have an excellent design in place today – but it is up to Congress to enable it to work.  Let the aviation trust fund work as it should – and if it doesn’t help, then consider privatization.  There is no need to re-invent the wheel today – just fund it properly and allow those running the FAA to plan on a multi-year basis without worrying about the next political budget fight in Congress. All it takes is common sense – but that isn’t very common in Washington

Read more »

Premium #337 – EAA Oshkosh impressions

By |

Welcome to AirInsight Premium content. This page is only available to active members.

Already a member?

Interested in becoming a member?

Read more »

Premium #330 – Connectivity keeps improving

By |

We have been tracking demand for aircraft connectivity for some time.  There are several news stories that further underscore the point that demand for connectivity seems to have no upper limit.

  • Icelandair will equip its 737 MAX fleet with ViaSat connectivity. The system will connect aircraft to the ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite network over North America and the Atlantic, switching to ViaSat and Eutelsat’s Ka-band KA-SAT network over Europe.
  • Gogo business aviation unveiled a suite of smart cabin systems, SCS Elite and SCS Media, which are a highly integrated cabin, IFE and voice solutions that can be personalized to fit the specific needs of passengers on board a given flight.
  • Bombardier announced it is offering Ka-band technology on new Challenger 650 aircraft. The Ka-band high-speed internet system, the industry’s fastest in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity with worldwide coverage, is also being offered as a retrofit on in-service Challenger 604, Challenger 605 and Challenger 650 aircraft.

These data points must be seen in context.  It’s not just airlines.  Any operator is going to seek ways to add its aircraft to their existing IT infrastructure.  This concept may not have been pioneered by Embraer, but to our knowledge, they were the first to articulate it.

Icelandair already has a unique connectivity option on its 757s, it uses two systems.  Moving to the ViaSat solution the airline is following the choice at American.  ViaSat claims it does not have any bandwidth capacity constraints because of Ka.  Gogo has its 2Ku solution which it claims can match or beat the Ka.  The fact that operators have the choice of 2Ku or Ka is a tremendous improvement over what existed even just two years ago.

The Gogo solution being offered to business jets demonstrates that operators of even small aircraft desire the “always on” connectivity.  Bombardier’s selection of Ka underscores Gogo’s announcement.  Once again, we have operators being able to choose from the two approaches.

On a visit to Embraer, we were shown their approach to aircraft health management.  The system is impressive to an outsider.  But it must be truly special if a customer has added its non-Embraer aircraft to this system!

We have mentioned before the growing importance of connectivity at another airline deep into this solution, Norwegian.  Passengers receive this connectivity for free.  Norwegian utilizes the GEE solution which also uses the Ku system.  GEE’s solution uses Ku because it is said to be lower cost than Ka.  We reported on the Ka vs Ku battle in 2016.  Although dated 2013, here is another useful guide to this issue.  The chart below summarizes the tradeoff between these two.

Regardless of where one ends up in the debate about connectivity, we can be reasonably certain of a few things: satellite is the way forward, e-Enabled aircraft will demand connectivity to upload and download data in-flight and passengers are going to expect “always on” connectivity.  Even Southwest Airlines boasts about its “gate to gate” connectivity, even though while your bags fly free, your data connectivity is not.

Another source of connectivity is Honeywell, which offered this amusing video.

Connectivity is now a “nose to tail” issue.  Everything about an aircraft benefits from connectivity.  MRO and Flight Ops are able to monitor an aircraft and undertake proactive measures to keep it in service.  Flight Ops can communicate with the flight crew at much lower cost than using ACARS.  This decision support is not seen as important until it becomes critical.  Flights can be disrupted by many issues, and low-cost communications enables improved content and context.  Airlines, for example, can dispose of satellite phones.   There are even issues of tracking aircraft, which post-MH270, are obvious.  Then there are the more obvious cabin impacts with e-commerce in real-time and passenger entertainment.  While we do not spend much time on passenger experience, it is clear that given the increasingly uncomfortable airline cabins in economy and no frills classes, anything that transports the mind elsewhere is a benefit.

SITA offers a useful guide to how their solutions impact airlines and connectivity.  As we move towards modern ATC and see e-Enablement given full expression, the connectivity issue will come into full bloom.

Read more »