The project, expected to begin testing in November 2012—and implementation in 2013—will be coordinated with the FAA, the systems OEMs and Boeing to ensure compliance and compatibility with all of the aircraft systems. Certification would be conducted under a Boeing service bulletin, or a supplemental type certificate.
One of the major tasks, says Majors, is to determine which departments at the airline will have access to the data coming off the aircraft. “We have to decide which part of the data applies to what specific department, and then we have to find a way to get the data to that department,” he explains. “Once retrofitted with the new software, the airplane will generate a tremendous amount of data, so arrangements will have to be made to store the data and establish security measures.”
Ken Snodgrass, vice president of marketing and product management-integrated cockpits for Honeywell, points out that, once the data is on the ground, the problem is how the user deciphers and sorts the data in order to come up with a meaningful answer. “There are a lot of algorithms involved. The airlines want to collect more data, so storage on the aircraft is becoming an issue. We are solving this, either with a new communications box on older aircraft, or integrating (more storage-capable) software into existing hardware on newer airplanes.”
US Airways is in the process of upgrading the FMS installed on its Airbus A320s to make the aircraft compatible with the more tailored departures and approaches available under required navigation performance (RNP) specs. The upgrade, which began two years ago, involves 80 of the carrier's 240 A320s, with 40 done to date, says Ken Przeslica, the airline's manager for avionics engineering.
Przeslica explains that an extensive amount of hardware modifications are involved, including the installation of a multi-mode receiver (MMR) unit combining an ILS and a GPS receiver. This is done during a scheduled C check, given the extensive wiring changes and access to wiring bundles involved.
In addition, a GPS antenna must be mounted and MMR activation software loaded into the FMS.
“The complete modification requires about 400 man-hours, including the time for the software download,” Przeslica notes. “For the A320's FMS, Thales—the OEM—made the memory partitions more capable of accepting future upgrades in order to support increasing database sizes within the FMS units. With RNP, this will be extremely important because additional way points will need to be incorporated.”
Przeslica notes that RNP will permit substantial fuel savings, and give the entire A320 fleet a similar configuration at US Airways. “We wanted to bring every aircraft up to RNP capability, so the crews could be trained for that on any member of the A320 family we fly.”
By December 2020, the FAA's NextGen ATM is slated to be up and running, and aircraft operating in the U.S. airspace will have to be equipped with an ADS-B Out transponder. “We've decided to be an early adopter of this, and are now working to bring our A330 fleet to that standard. That will involve a software upgrade, on-wing, because the hardware was developed to a level that accepts the software for the ADS-B Out configuration.”
US Airways, he reports, has partnered with Phoenix-based ACSS to perform the upgrade. “They built the hardware and developed the software. We are working with them to get through the certification process.”