The majority of avionics developments today are focused on refining and improving the quality, efficiency and safety of aircraft operations. A secondary market is that of passenger service or support.
According to both OEMS and avionics shops, the most requested items today are still flat panel cockpit updates and system revisions. Such upgrades effectively and efficiently improve the safety and productivity of an older aircraft while also adding additional hull value come resale time
Usually coupled with such upgrades are the introduction of new navigation systems, aids and communication or data transmission capabilities. Hi-speed broadband and Wi-Fi capabilities are tops on the list - usually because such improvements have applicability to the both the cockpit and the cabin realm.
OEMS working to make change easier . . .
Because all aircraft are somewhat unique either through OEM design or years of individualized upgrades and changes, there are rarely simple, easy plug-n-play answers to the upgrade story. STCs do come into the picture. Accordingly costs can and will vary.
That said the OEMs have been working diligently to create new products that interface and adapt themselves in various ways – all with a goal to making upgrades as simple as possible. While there will seldom be a generic fit all solution, there are great strides by firms like Garmin, Universal, Rockwell Collins to name a few along with Canadian stakeholders such as EMS (now part of Honeywell) and True North, have developed product series that interact with each other or existing technologies.
WAAS-capable wFMS Flight Management Systems has been a big success in some markets. The benefits of RNAV GNSS (LPV) approach procedures has helped to drive this. RNAV GNSS (LPV) has provided a much-needed boost in the minds of many to flight safety and operational efficiency – especially in secondary type aviation operations that provide a much-needed lifeline to the communities they support. And moving forward we will see more of this demand as the acceptance and use of the system expands.
And looking the crystal ball . . . Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) – also referred to as LINK2000+ - is next on the radar screen. CPDLC enables the flight crew and controllers to exchange routine, non-time critical instructions, clearances and requests via data link text messages. The implementation of data link is one of the key operational improvements that will alleviate voice channel congestion in busy European airspace.
Communication errors such as simultaneous transmissions, misheard voice instructions and requests are reduced when data link is employed. By sending a text message directly to the aircraft, the controller can communicate instructions and clearances without having to repeat them. Flight crew can also read and acknowledge instructions and clearances directly sent to them in text. Data link will be used within core European airspace as a supplementary means of communication to voice. It is not the intention to replace voice.
While this technology is relatively new to general aviation aircraft, airlines have had their version – FANS – for quite a few years now. The commercial world is using a system called FANS-1/A now.
One thing to remember here - if you think back 15 years ago, we didn't have an RVSM issue and now we do. CPDLC will migrate from Europe to the home front at some point; mostly in heavily congested airspace. Today on new OEM aircraft, CPDLC remains an option. However, it too like RVSM, will with time unquestionably become a “standard” part of the avionics suite from day one. Anyone looking 10 years forward or anyone traveling to Europe on a regular basis needs to get on line with CPDLC - sooner than later.