what next for the avionics industry in 2019?

March 12, 2019

What can we expect in terms of avionics developments this year? Steve Nichols looks at what the industry is planning

A common theme mentioned by suppliers when this feature was being prepared was the upcoming ADS-B mandates.

The FAA has mandated that aircraft operating in airspace that now requires a Mode C transponder must be equipped with ADS-B Out by January 1 2020 while the European mandate comes into effect on June 6 2020.

But it seems that many operators still haven’t got the message.

Jessica Koss at Garmin said: “For 2019, we expect to see a lot of pilots continue to equip for ADS-B as there are an overwhelming number of value-added products available on the market that integrate nicely with new and existing avionics, as well as mobile devices in the cockpit.

“But based on what we are hearing from the field, lead times will also continue to grow as avionics shops become more and more backlogged with installations, which may present a challenge to pilots and aircraft owners who wish to operate in affected airspace after January 1, 2020.”

Kevin Kliethermes, director of Sales for Flying Colours, said it is quickly running out of available upgrade slots

“Combined with expanding lead times for parts purchases and equipment upgrades, careful planning will be extremely important to meet the needs of our current and soon-to-be customers,” said Kliethermes.

“We have been evaluating our personnel needs in order to meet the increased demand and continue to add experienced technicians to our staff, although this is sometimes not an easy task.”

Kliethermes said it will be investing heavily in additional space and personnel at all of its facilities.

“We will continue to identify areas that we can deepen our capabilities around our core business segments and expect to add additional capabilities and experience for airframes outside of our traditional target market,” he said.

Paul DeHerrera, CEO Universal Avionics, said: “There is a growing concern that some owners who are operating aircraft with lower hull values may not complete the ADS-B mandate, and will take their aircraft out of service or will take a ‘wait and see’ posture as the 2020 deadline approaches.

“It is also important for the avionics industry to continue to provide information and to educate the users as to the benefits of ADS-B and help them understand the road map to Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) and how it benefits them operationally and financially. Aircraft hull value doesn’t change the benefits of operating in the ADS-B airspace; these aircraft are able to benefit equally and, in many cases, at a lower cost per hour.”

“Operators who have upgraded to ADS-B have taken the first step toward PBN by providing precise, predictable, and repeatable navigation as set for in the FAA’s goals for PBN,” he said.

“PBN provides curved path approaches, more arrivals and departures to major airports, and the freedom from ground-based paths allowing optimized routes with favorable winds that are more direct, saving time and fuel.

“But operators need to know that the completion of the ADS-B Out mandate isn’t the end. It’s the very first step toward PBN functionally which will greatly reduce operating costs, improve efficiencies, and save time,” DeHerrera concluded.

But other than ADS-B, what else can we expect?

Jessica Koss at Garmin said: “Customers can expect to see enhancements to our existing product line that will come in the form of software updates.

“We’ll also bring some significant innovations and, of course, new products to market throughout the US and in Europe. Regardless of what type of flying our customers are doing in 2019, they’ll find a lot of new and attractive solutions from Garmin that will add efficiency, confidence and simplify every flight they make.”

Garmin also said it had a number of free aviation webinars planned through the first-half of 2019. These range from Garmin Pilot tips and tricks, cost-effective autopilot upgrades to low-cost avionics solutions.

DeHerrera said: “Since the acquisition by Elbit Systems, our teams have been working feverishly, melting functionally between Head-Up Display (HUD) functions and our Flight Management System (FMS) and InSight flight deck.

“At NBAA 2018, we demonstrated FMS runway and approach selection by simply looking and clicking. Expect more dynamic, visual identification and selection that streamlines and simplifies flight deck operations between head-up and head-down in critical phases of flight.

“Also, the data link communications genesis was initially from Europe due to its very congested airspace and need for a solution such as Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) enabling pilots to communicate via ‘an aircraft text message’.

“This technology greatly improved communication congestion by eliminating errors in voice communication and flight plan transcriptions. US pilots are now realizing the benefits of data link communications as more airports are coming online to provide digital IFR clearances.

“The exciting part of this as we progress is the ability to have the FMS interpret these digital clearances so that the pilot is not tasked with ‘re-keying’ the clearance into the FMS, only having to verify the information and hitting ‘Enter’.

“Data link can provide a host of other capabilities to the flight deck (position reporting, OOOI times, weather, messaging, etc.) and we are just scratching the surface,” DeHerrera said.

Newly-named Collins Aerospace says one of the great opportunities it has is to share the full breadth of value it offers.

“From avionics to cabin, landing gear to lighting, Collins Aerospace will be able to offer our customers a broader portfolio of solutions to meet their needs, while ensuring the best in-service support that customers expect,” said Christophe Blanc, vice president and general manager, Business and Regional Avionics, Collins Aerospace.

“From an avionics perspective, we are excited to be developing and bringing to market those offerings we announced in 2018, including enhancements to the Bombardier Global 5500/6500, head-up display and Enhanced Vision System for the Bombardier Challenger 350, Pro Line Fusion on the new Praetor 500/600, and aftermarket offerings on the Textron Citation CJ1+ and 2+, which complements our other Pro Line Fusion aftermarket upgrade offerings.

“As regulations have recently evolved, we believe one of the ripe opportunities is to tap the full value proposition of Enhanced Vision Systems, Synthetic Vision Systems, and Combined Vision Systems for our customers. The prospect of using vision technologies all the way to landing will offer an exciting new dynamic to our industry.

“In addition to this development and execution work, we are excited by the prospect of launching additional offerings in 2019 for production aircraft, as well as aftermarket upgrades, so stay tuned,” Blanc said.

The other big “want” in 2019 is inflight connectivity and a number of recent developments have made it more affordable and with wider choice.

This year will see the launch of the new Iridium Certus service. Using a constellation of low-earth orbiting satellites the system promises speeds of more than one Megabit per second with very compact antennas.

A SpaceX launch (Iridium-8) in January placed the final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit bringing a $3bn network refresh, allowing the launch of the Iridium Certus broadband network, more efficient IoT and the Aireon satellite-based ADS-B service.

At the time of writing, SmartSky Networks was also close to launching it US-base 4G air-to-ground network. The New York-Florida and New York-Chicago routes are likely to be the first available for SmartSky customers, followed by service rollout giving coverage throughout the US by the end of the year.

Inmarsat is also close to launching its air-to-ground European Aviation Network (EAN). It announced at EBACE 2018 that it was going to offer EAN to the Business Aviation community. It said it expects commercial customers to be flying with EAN in early 2019 and has an unnamed launch customer lined up.

We may also expect more news about Inmarsat’s Jet ConneX (JX) satellite-based inflight connectivity for Business Aviation. At NBAA it said JX had now been installed and activated on 400 business jets worldwide.

It said Jet ConneX is the preferred line-fit option by all of the market-leading business jet manufacturers including Gulfstream, Bombardier, Dassault and Embraer.

Kurt Weidemeyer, VP, Inmarsat Aviation, said: “2019 marks Inmarsat’s 40th anniversary, and it’s set to be a landmark year for the aviation business.

“We will continue to grow and nurture our expanding partner ecosystem this year, having recently announced strategic collaborations with Panasonic and Honeywell alongside our existing relationships with GX partners Rockwell Collins, Thales, SITA OnAir and Zodiac.

“At the same time, we’re always looking to the future. We are gearing up to launch our fifth GX satellite, GX-5, later this year, adding further capacity to our global network for years to come. We are also continuing to develop new hardware and software technologies and prepare for the next three scheduled satellite launches.”

“With so much to look forward to 2019 will be a pivotal year for the business,” Weidemeyer said.

But what is the biggest challenge facing the inflight connectivity industry according to Satcom Direct (SD)?

“As connectivity options become more widespread and bandwidth becomes more available, passengers and crew are becoming more reliant on those systems and expectations are increasing,” said Robert Vega, director of Product Management, Satcom Direct.

“Whereas in years past people were happy with a few kilobits to send an email, the expectation now is that the onboard experience matches that on the ground. Matching that pace on the aircraft, however, is a significant challenge,” he said.

“Customers are looking for solutions with long lifespans that won’t require costly upgrades every couple of years. This thinking, while perfectly understandable from an operator’s perspective, runs counter to the rapid fire upgrade approach seen on the ground.

“Finding the balance between developing innovative solutions to bring higher and higher speed connectivity systems to market while maintaining a level of consistency with the on-board avionics is the biggest challenge in the in-flight connectivity world today and will continue to be the biggest challenge for the foreseeable future,” Vega said.

And the biggest opportunities?

“These are in the light jet market. These aircraft have historically been in a connectivity black hole as their only options have been low speed systems that are regionally restricted.

“Advancements in flat panel and phased array technologies have not successfully penetrated the aviation market and these solutions are necessary for aircraft that can’t support a tail-mounted system, but that want to have a high-speed, global connectivity.

“The challenges that have held these antennas back range from thermal to power to size, but the biggest issue is cost. Engineers will find a way to clear the technical hurdles but they must do so in a manner that allows the solution to hit the sweet spot for the more cost sensitive customers.

“Improvements are continuously being made in this arena and I believe we’re getting close to having the ability to serve this market,” Vega concluded.