Honeywell has certified a software modification to its 3-D weather radar that allows for crowdsourcing among connected aircraft. Honeywell

How Connectivity Is Driving Efficiency Gains in Aviation

Small equipment additions promise large benefits for connected airlines.

Advances in connectivity systems, and some creative thinking, hold the promise of a broad new slate of applications and services that will benefit airline operational efficiency and safety. 

Fueling the trend are the increasing number of airliners being fitted with broadband systems and small, lightweight cabin and “crew services” network hardware and software dedicated to the flight deck and operations. Pilots will benefit in part through new electronic flight bag (EFB) applications that tap into onboard and offboard data, while airlines will see efficiency gains through movement of operational data at lower costs, both on the ground and in the air.

Top avionics companies including Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales are investing heavily in the hardware and software components, and the data pipes that deliver the information to and from the cockpit, as they compete to become end-to-end service providers for data-hungry avionics and EFB applications.

An increasing number of connectivity subsystem providers building servers or aircraft interface devices are jockeying for potentially lucrative contracts outfitting legacy aircraft designs—primarily the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737—with connectivity equipment. Key competitors include Astronautics Corp. of America, Astronics Corp., Avionica Inc., Esterline CMC Electronics, Teledyne Controls and Thompson Aerospace.

Rockwell Collins, which purchased Arinc in 2013 and rebranded the operation as Information Management Services, predicts a boom time for applications and services as broadband connectivity slowly but surely becomes ubiquitous in the airline fleet. Kent Statler, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rockwell Collins’s Commercial Systems division, says a key focus is to position the company for “the inevitable move into the information management side.”

Management in this context involves not only moving data from the aircraft to the airline operations center and back, but also using the data to help carriers save money. Statler says a top priority of airlines is to be able to use connectivity to minimize fleet disruptions due to weather or other unplanned circumstances. He says the company is involved in “disruption management” studies with both Airbus and Boeing to determine how to “fix” a disruption and communicate the solution to the fleet.

Honeywell, the main distributor and satellite communications terminal provider for Inmarsat’s new broadband Ka-band Jet ConneX service, is taking a holistic view of connectivity across its entire avionics and auxiliary power unit portfolio. “We are looking at what connectivity does to the front of the aircraft and under the floorboards,” says Carl Esposito, vice president of marketing and product management for Honeywell Aerospace. “We have strategies and plans around using it in innovative ways to improve operations, maintenance, reliability and the fundamental business models of our clients.”

As an example of out-of-the-box thinking, Honeywell recently certified a software upgrade for its RDR-4000 weather radar that will downlink the radar’s output to the company’s Global Data Center (GDC), where forecasters will be able to boost the capabilities of Honeywell’s Weather Information subscription service. “Airborne weather radar was never designed to share its information,” says Esposito, arguing the development is revolutionary rather than evolutionary. “There are no design standards for that.” 

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