Monday, July 18, 2011

Paris Airshow Review: Buy New & Wait

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All told, operators worldwide bought more than $100 billon worth of new airplanes from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, and Bombardier at the 49th International Paris Air Show, held  June 20-26 at Le Bourget. The 660 orders for the single-aisle Airbus A320NEO (new engine option) fueled  speculation on whether Boeing would build new or re-engine its venerable 737.

Paris 49These sales reports surely result in  sleepless nights for those who operate late model and legacy transport category aircraft. So that you’ll sleep better, note that the news never fully addressed one aspect of buying new: delivery positions, and how many years operators had to wait for their new airplanes. Nor did reports mention inevitable delays and cost overruns.

When you get right down to it, operators buying new airplanes are really after just two things, efficient powerplants and modern avionics. Avionics is a supporting player at Paris, but L-3 Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems announced a contract for its commercial NextGen/SESAR products in the new US Air Force’s Boeing 767 tanker.

In the flurry order-count reports, International Lease Finance  CEO Henri Courpron was the voice of pragmatic reason: “Does a child want a new toy? Of course. Everybody wants a new airplane, but there comes a time to ask the parental, adult questions [such as], ‘How much will it cost?’ and ‘Do we need it?’”

Given all this, ask yourself, “Why buy new and wait—and pay extra for the airframe you really don’t need—when ASIG can deliver what you want now?”  Avionics, IFE or other sensors and controls, it can meet your needs on your schedule at a cost far below that of new. By upgrading what you need now, you’ll reap the savings while others are awaiting for their number to come down the production line.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Adopting Technology: Three Takes on COTS Electronic Flight Bags

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[EFB-PR2[4].jpg]The benefits of using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) tablets like the Apple iPad as electronic flight bags (EFBs) are easy to grasp. A typical pilot’s flight bag, filled with all the necessary manuals, charts, and other required documents weighs between 35 and 50 pounds, depending on each airline’s requirements.

An iPad or similar device holds all of it, and it weighs roughly 1.5 pounds. That translates to millions saved in fuel, paper, printing, distribution, revision time, and healthcare costs related to the contortions required to maneuver heavy flight bags in tight cockpits.

The challenge is how to adopt this new technology and integrate its use in an airline’s operations. It is not a one-size-fits all, as the paths taken by Alaska, American, and Southwest will show. As discussed in a previous issue of Wired, N-Jets, a Part-135 carrier, chose another route, in which ASIG guided it to the industry’s inaugural A061 iPad EFB approval in 2010

American is a cautious early adopter. According to the company, it was the first Part-121 carrier the FAA authorized to use iPad EFBs. By meeting the requirements collected in FAA InFO 11011, dated May 13, 2011, American can use the Class I EFB, which runs Jeppesen software and data and provides operational and navigation and approach information in all phases of flight.

With this approval, American started a test program with select crews. Boeing 777 pilots based at LAX are conducting the final testing of iPad as Class I EFBs. Upon satisfactory completion of these tests that prove the unit’s full operational and navigation capabilities, American will make the final decision on its integration, whether it will assign iPad EFBs to each pilot or each aircraft in its fleet.

Alaska Airline EFB Video from USA Today

Rather than phase in a fully capable EFB, Alaska Airlines has issued iPads with limited capabilities to all of its pilots. “The initial iPad deployment provides 20 company manuals, two checklists, and other pilot information files,” said Sarah Dalton, Alaska director of airspace and technology. Good Reader displays the documents. Pilots also have access to company websites and e-mail outside the aircraft.

Pilots now have access to information on and off the aircraft, she continued. They update this data through a secure company portal accessible from any WiFi Internet connection, and “a time-date stamp will appear next to the file when the synchronization process is complete.” This cost-effective technology saves the time and money associated with  about 2.4 million pieces of paper.

A Class I device is not approved for all phases of flight, Alaska crews must power down below 10,000 feet. To provide operational and navigation information during these phases of flight “We will be putting paper aeronautical charts on the aircraft directly rather than issuing them to each pilot,” said Dalton.

With the paper flight bag as the primary information source, the initial iPad deployment required no changes in the airline’s operating specifications, she said. “Ultimately we want to stop carrying paper and will need an operation specification to do that. To get to that point, all the pilots will need to be proficient on the iPad and the company updating process must function reliably . We anticipate that the operation specification will be in place in the late summer/early fall time frame.”

Once the iPad proves itself in this arena, Alaska will take the next step, either installing a Class II mount for the iPad and certifying it for full operational and navigational use in all phases of flight or integrating it with a traditional EFB.

Share the Spirit LogoSouthwest Airlines operates with “paper flight bags that are aircraft-centric, not pilot-centric,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven. Because pilots vastly outnumber airplanes, this efficiently reduces the pages it must create, distribute, and revise. Southwest has been studying and evaluating iPad technology as it matures, but it does not now have an active EFB program.

The pluses are clear, he said, but so are the minuses. “I’m not sure that the process is reliable, and you’ve got the investment in technology that needs to be on the airplane, and whether it would be with the pilot or the airplane.” Pilots often need several documents at the same time, which means they would have to flip to them because the iPad cannot display more than one readable document at a time.

Given these nuances, the iPad “is an interesting and advancing piece of technology,” said Van de Ven, but “I’m not sure that at this stage of development that it produces a substantial improvement over the way we operate today.” But he clearly recognizes that “the technology is moving so fast in that area that what I say today may or may not be true a year and half from today, or even next month.”

In other words, the imperative is that airlines need to keep current with the latest developments in all aspects of aviation technology to fully evaluate how they may benefit their operations. That includes putting the technology to work. As ASIG learned with N-jets certification effort, stepping up required the development and integration of FAA-compliant, thermal mitigating, iPad-compliant external power supplies, Class II mounting solutions, and custom software apps that meet the operator’s needs.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!