November 05, 2012
Paul Seidenman and David J. Spanovich San Francisco
As new airspace operational mandates loom, and digital technology advances functionality, airlines are making critical decisions with respect to avionics upgrades. Increasingly, that means uploading more capable software.
“Software retrofits are preferred in lieu of wholesale line-replaceable unit (LRU) hardware change-outs, so the OEMs are certifying software product improvements for existing LRUs,” states Mitch Klink, vice chairman of the Avionics Maintenance Conference for Arinc industry activities. “But given the current economic environment at the airlines, any desired software upgrades from the OEMs would have to be justified through strict return on investment (ROI) calculations.”
That being the case, Klink points out that software functionality enhancements pertaining to the NextGen Air Traffic Modernization program are now considered “the biggest bang for the buck.” But the highest priority, he says, are communication and navigation, and flight management systems (FMS) upgrades, since they contribute to fuel-saving, aircraft routing efficiencies.
Mario Araujo, vice president engineering at TAP Maintenance and Engineering in Lisbon, notes that other evolving air traffic management (ATM) systems implemented worldwide, such as the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) program, and Japan's Collaborative Actions for Renovation of Air Traffic Systems (Carats), will mandate new avionics capabilities.
“That will be costly, along with the challenges to getting the parts in a timely manner, and to incorporate the changes in the aircraft without jeopardizing the operation. All the maintenance and operations manuals and certification paperwork will have to be ready in time. That will require considerable synchronization planning across several domains—along with a lubricated logistics scheme.”
Araujo also cited controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) requirements for European Union airspace, which mandated CPDLC on new aircraft out of the factory from Jan. 1, 2011, and retrofits by Feb. 15, 2015. The mandate, known as LINK 2000+ impacts all aircraft operating under instrument flight rules (IFR) above Flight Level 285. “This is a major modification in which we are investing around $12 million to bring our European fleet of around 40 short-haul Airbus planes into compliance,” he says.
Compliance will involve a data link utilizing VHF radio that will enable transmission of commands via a textual system, according to Craig Peterson, director of avionics and flight-control systems for Rockwell Collins. The software upgrades required to enable this, he explains, primarily involve the on-board radios and routers, as well as the control display unit that encompasses the keyboards and other interfaces.