avionics: what’s next for 2020 and beyond?

March 2, 2020

Avionics have come a long way over the past few years. But is progress slowing? Have we seen the biggest developments? Is there anything left to invent? Steve Nichols comments

Thomas Watson, the president of IBM, famously said in 1943 that he predicted the total world market for its products would be “maybe five computers”. So anyone who suggests we have seen the best in terms of technology on aircraft is probably wrong – totally wrong! But can we expect in 2020 and beyond?

Kevin Kliethermes, director of Sales at Flying Colours Corp, said: “At the beginning of the year, the ADS-B Out story will run as those that haven’t complied will suffer consequences. There will still be operators working to meet the US requirements for at least a part of 2020.

“European regulations are coming into effect too in 2020, and we have already had a healthy amount of conversations with EU operators regarding their compliance plan as part of a larger maintenance and/or interior projects.

“We are also seeing more requests for redundancy in the cabin avionics. We have had a few customers asking for two different types of network and connectivity just in case one should fail, which demonstrates just how important cabin connectivity has become,” he said.

So what new products/legislation does Flying Colours see affecting the market?

“I think that further regulations are inevitable in order to better manage the airspace,” said Kliethermes. “Some of this will be driven by the environmental issues too, as better airspace management can reduce CO2 emissions.

“I would also expect there to be continuous development in relation to more connected aircraft driving enhancements and workload reduction for not only the pilots, but also the maintenance and supporting personnel.”

He said they are reviewing several different opportunities and having discussions with a number of parties regarding future product development and how it will benefit customers.

“We’d like to see smaller flat panel antennas developed so that we can support smaller aircraft that want increased connectivity options. Right now the equipment is too big and expensive for the aircraft,” he said. “I suspect we’ll see more of this in 2020.”

Overall, how does Flying Colours see the avionics market in 2020?

“NextGen will continue to be a major talking point and will broadband internet offerings. Customers continue to want cheaper, faster and more connectivity and that will drive what customers expect to be able to have,” said Kliethermes.

“Aggregating data from the aircraft to improve performance, maintenance and customer experience will be something that will need product development and will become a hot topic this year. Convergence of suppliers is also on the horizon, what used to be a silo-ed sector of the landscape is becoming a place where complementary companies are coming together to deliver a better service to the end user,” he concluded.

Turning to manufacturers, Garmin said that in 2020 it will continue to announce new retrofit options available in avionics.

Garmin’s Jessica Koss said: “We see growth in this market continuing well into 2020 as aircraft owners will have plenty of retrofit opportunities available to them. GPS navigation and autopilots are cost-effective, and they expand the operating capability of their aircraft.”

In November Garmin announced that it had received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for the GFC 500 autopilot in additional models of the Piper PA-28 and select models of the Piper PA-32.

“We’ll bring Garmin’s Autoland system to market and announce new aircraft adopting it. We’ll also continue to expand the availability and aircraft approval list of our GFC 500 and GFC 600 autopilots. Automation will be a big headline in 2020 and beyond,” Koss concluded.

Another area in which we hope to see lots of new announcements is inflight connectivity.

Inmarsat’s GX5 satellite was recently launched and at the time of writing was being maneuvered into its final orbital positions. When online, GX5 will deliver more capacity than the entire existing GX fleet (GX1-GX4) combined.

Meanwhile, Viasat is gearing up for the launch of its Viasat-3 satellite. The satellite, which will serve the United States and the rest of the Americas, as well as trans-oceanic routes, is expected to launch by May 29, 2021, and be operational by Dec. 31, 2021.

OneWeb is gearing up to provide internet access across the whole planet via constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites.

The company, based in White City, London, already has six satellites in orbit and is set to launch more than 30 per month in 2020. The aim is to have a total of 650 satellites by the service’s commercial launch from 2022.

Ed Slater, executive director, Government and Business Aviation at OneWeb, said: “OneWeb intends to deliver an affordable line-fit solution to the lightest of business jets, through to large cabin VVIP airliners and even new supersonic offerings.

“It will use electrically steerable array (ESA) antennas that can be easily sized for different aircraft. Antenna partners have yet to be selected, but OneWeb is confident it will be in a position to make partner announcements by EBACE in May 2020,” he said.

“We had a very positive showing at NBAA in Las Vegas in October 2019 and are busy following up on those discussions with OEMs, operators and integrators.”

A typical geostationary satellite signals’ round-trip of nearly 72,000km means a time delay of at least 240 milliseconds.

“Our solution comes from high performing, low-latency, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that will be situated much closer to Earth – approximately 750 miles. This means that business jet passengers connecting in-flight will be able to enjoy more bandwidth, at reduced cost,” Slater said.

Low-Earth orbit also brings internet access to the poles. A geo satellite typically runs out of steam at about +/- 85 degrees – it is just too far down on the horizon. OneWeb says its constellation will provide access from pole to pole.

Connectivity in the cockpit promises to revolutionize flying. We are seeing more companies developing cockpit apps with links to information sources, such as weather.

Colin Quarles, VP Strategy and Product Management, Satcom Direct, said: “We believe cybersecurity will continue to be at the forefront of the industry in 2020 as requirements and guidance aviation authorities will drive architecture considerations at the hardware level to reinforce the need to mitigate potential cyber events.

“Second, with the continued adoption of higher bandwidth satellite communications, real-time aircraft data being sent to the ground is now even more prevalent.

“2020 is likely to see increased adoption of that data being used for actionable operational efficiencies, within flight departments, at OEMs and eventually into ancillary channels such as the brokers.

“Third, as the number of worldwide aircraft continues to increase, minimizing pilot workload and fatigue through advanced avionics and autonomous reporting should see continued adoption. Much of this will be laying the foundation for enhanced analytics, post-flight, and eventually moving into more real-time actionable information to operators and support staff,” Quarles said.

SD said automating the pilot workload and fatigue management will continue to drive real-time data synchronization throughout the industry.

“Increased spatial awareness and location tracking capabilities supported by satellite networks will allow for more efficient operations across the aviation market,” said Quarles.

And what new products does SD have in the pipeline?

“There will be announcements of larger scale communications platforms comprised of multiple LRUs that enable a truly premium and standard connectivity experience backed by the SD infrastructure empowering enhanced security and data accessibility standards,” he said.

Thales recently announced its new flight management system which relies heavily on connectivity. Available from 2024, it promises enhanced safety and efficiency in the cockpit.

The FMS is specifically designed to efficiently manage aircraft in a connected aerospace ecosystem and in increasingly crowded skies.

PureFlyt is a connected FMS, designed to offer air framers and airlines the best combination of safety, security, and fuel and operations efficiency.

“With PureFlyt software, which will be available for Microsoft and Apple operating systems, the EFB becomes a more useful tool in their air,” said Peter Hitchcock, VP, Thales Commercial Avionics.

He said that by using a secure inflight connectivity system, such as Iridium Certus or SwiftBroadband Safety, near real-time weather information will become available while in flight. The EFB could also receive messages from ground operations as well.

The system can then suggest alternative routing to avoid thunderstorms or other adverse weather, complete with an updated estimated time of arrival and any additional fuel burn.

“Typically, pilots only get up-to-date weather information from any on-board weather radar system. But any weather feature may be out of its range. Traditionally, EFBs only know about weather from out-of-date forecasts, but now they will be able to get up-to-date weather information while inflight,” he said.

“At the end of a flight, the updated flight plan from the EFB is ready to be sent to the company at the touch of a button, which saves a lot of time and effort by the crew,” he said.

PureFlyt has been developed by a team of 400 engineers at Thales’ operations in Toulouse and Bordeaux, along with commercial airline pilots.

Hitchcock says that Thales has used artificial intelligence technologies to simulate two billion test cases, accumulating an invaluable experience, equivalent to 100 million actual flight hours.

“The FMS is connected to more than 30 systems on the aircraft,” he said.

“Our 4D-approach is a first for FMS systems and eliminates the gap between the EFB and the FMS. Finally, we’ve designed the system for the next generation of aircraft, both civil and military, both manned and unmanned.”

He added that PureFlyt has also been designed to be future-proof, accommodating the implementation of concepts such as the Initial 4D (I4D) trajectory management methods currently being researched by SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) in the EU and NextGen in the US.

The connectivity enables other benefits to the pilot as well.

Jean-Paul Ebanga, Thales VP of Flight Avionics, said: “In the air, the digital revolution has only just begun. A paradigm shift in onboard cockpit electronics is taking place in the connected airspace and PureFlyt is at the forefront of this digital new age, leading the next generation of FMS that truly makes the aircraft a node of connectivity.”

Universal Avionics (UA) said that it sees lots of opportunities for “best equipped, best served” type upgrades this year.

Robert Clare, Universal Avionics director of sales, said: “There’s also opportunity for obsolescence replacements for relevant suppliers.”

But what does he see as the main stories for avionics in 2020?

“The evolutions of CNS/ATM, EVS, and HUD (including wearable head-up displays) may be the main news items,” said Clare.

UA also debuted its ‘Fly by Sight’ flight deck concept at the 2019 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Las Vegas, NV. This combines ClearVision SkyLens Head Wearable Display (HWD) and the company’s Interactive FMS (i-FMS).

“We may also see the development of domestic en-route CPDLC, and ADS-B out for Europe,” he said.

Its UniLink UL-800/801 Communications Management Unit (CMU) and SBAS-Flight Management System (FMS) are well placed for further growth.