Wireless Data: The New Age of
Flight Operations Efficiency

Wireless Data

The new age of flight operations efficiency

By Woodrow Bellamy III

Presented by:


Increasing the efficiency of flight operations in today's ultra-competitive global aviation industry requires operators to take advantage of 21st century data automation solutions. Airline operational teams need to get their aircraft in and out of airports as quickly as possible, aiming to maintain flight schedules while also constantly monitoring the conditions of their aircraft to ensure safety. And it helps that operators no longer have to wait for an aircraft to land to evaluate its condition and maintenance needs.

In today's environment, data acquisition is more important than ever, according to William Cecil, director of business development at Teledyne Controls. As passenger jets continue to become smarter with increasingly data centric architectures, the tools that operators use to monitor the flying conditions of their fleet will not only become increasingly rigorous, but also getting the right data to these tools at the right time will become increasingly important. "Basically, the data acquisition unit, whether it’s on a Boeing or an Airbus or any aircraft, really fits in the middle of the information world, because it’s actually connected to dozens and dozens of databuses and it listens to just about everything on the aircraft, and it also feeds the data that has to get to the flight data recorder," said Cecil. "Typically the regulations increase that requirement more and more; so that more and more data gets sent and for every generation of aircraft it gets bumped up a level."

Already the provider of line fit aircraft data acquisition systems for Airbus single aisle and long range aircraft, and a variety of Boeing airplanes including the popular 737 NG aircraft, Teledyne will also supply the data acquisition system for the 737 MAX, as well as the Onboard Network System for the 737 NG, 737 MAX and 747-8. Under that contract, Teledyne will provide its enhanced Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit (eDFDAU) and Network File Server 2 (NFS2).

The company also has solutions that take advantage of 21st century connectivity options, such as 3G/4G cellular communications. These solutions help airlines get both their necessary Loadable Software Parts (LSPs) on the aircraft to power next generation avionics systems currently being deployed and retrofitted on aircraft, as well as data acquisition management solutions that allow airlines to monitor those same systems and other critical components on the aircraft in real time.

Some of the most widely used technologies that were previously seen as necessary for increasing efficiency are not able to support future needs. These include the use of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) for digital transmissions between the aircraft and ground stations, the use of physical media to collect flight data from the aircraft and the use of floppy disks for distributing and loading software and databases onto the aircraft.

"ACARS is prohibitively expensive," said John Clear

Since its first introduction into the air transportation industry in the 1970s, operators have greatly increased the use of ACARS as a digital data link system for the transmission of information about on-board components between aircraft and ground stations. After an initial reliance on Very High Frequency (VHF) communications channels, which has expanded and seen a trend of integrating aircraft systems with the ACARS link, the system's use grew as an operational communications tool. But this method is becoming increasingly outdated. According to Murray Skelton,director of business development, operational software solutions, at Teledyne Controls, ACARS modem speeds are still in the 1990s era, averaging less than 9.6 Kilobits per second (Kbps). Even the newly available VHF Data Link (VDL) mode 2 version of ACARS has a maximum data rate of 31.5 Kbps. And there’s also a cost factor. ACARS is the basis for data communications supporting Air Traffic Services and that application is the only one that justifies the high transmissions costs. For all other operational applications, the airlines will continue to seek less expensive data transmission methods.

"ACARS does not deliver our needs,” said John Clear, director of technical services at Ryanair. "Even though it may be real time, the amount of data that you get from it does not allow you to do what we’re currently doing."

Downloading Flight Data...
Flight Data Downloaded
Updating Electronic Flight Bag...
Electronic Flight Bag Updated
Uploading Nav Database...
Nav Database Uploaded

Clear's technical services division at Ryanair is responsible for the Irish low-cost carrier's analyses, management and use of flight data for the purpose of improving efficiency and safety. The airline has 300 Boeing 737 NGs installed Teledyne's Wireless GroundLink Quick Access Recorder (WQAR) across the fleet to improve operational safety and efficiency including monitoring of engines. This has essentially established a new mode of operating.

After every flight, the equivalent of the black box recording and more is downloaded by the GroundLink system and sent to Teledyne's data center. From there, Ryanair can work with Teledyne to rapidly create new applications that monitor systems and components and help the airline introduce better practices to increase flight operations efficiency.

"One of the key elements of that is to look at engine performance degradation, because as the engine degrades it uses more fuel. We use our WQAR data from Teledyne to monitor and measure the performance degradation of the engine and that’s a key parameter that goes into our flight planning system in terms of the assurance of the right fuel levels for the flight and based off the particular performance of the engines that are used for that flight," said Clear. "That’s where the big advantage comes in; being able to develop applications to monitor different components like that. The unique aspect that we have is that we can very quickly put together an application on the ground with Teledyne to monitor the performance of certain equipment and look out for indications of problems that we may have been told [of] by Honeywell or Boeing … and be able to drive those problems out before they show themselves physically in the aircraft."

According to Clear, GroundLink also helped Ryanair get a better handle on monitoring the 737 NG's bleed air system, which has a history of poor performance. Bleed air is compressed air taken from the compressor stage of the engine and then used for internal engine cooling, engine and airframe anti-icing, and cabin pressurization. Prior to adding GroundLink, the monitoring of that system was extremely difficult to troubleshoot, but being able to monitor it in near real time has allowed the airline to not only solve these types of issues, but also identify them before they occur. Ryanair has benefited so much from the use of the system that, going forward, the data derived from GroundLink will be a strong aspect of modernizing and expanding its fleet and number of flights.

"We have 300 737s, and we have ordered 100 737 MAXs. We also have an additional 180 737 NGs to come. A very important point for us is that over the next 10 years we will grow from 300 aircraft to 520 aircraft and one of the important points we see with the Teledyne system and data is to allow us to efficiently grow our airline. Using data is the best method to monitor the engines and safe operation of the aircraft," said Clear.

Pegasus Airlines has similarly benefited from the introduction of Teledyne's data acquisition technology into its flight operations. Currently, the Turkish carrier — which operates a fleet of 54 Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s combined between its mainline and subsidiary operations — is working on implementing the Boeing Airplane Health Management System (AHM) to improve flight times, fuel burn and other aspects of its operations, according to Serçin Özen, senior specialist for safety and flight data monitoring at Pegasus.

"Boeing’s AHM program is fed by real-time airplane data but we are planning to send the data after landing using Teledyne's wireless method,” said Özen. "Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) reports produced by Teledyne Digital Flight Data Acquisition Units (DFDAUs) are going to be sent to the AHM system to provide enhanced fault forwarding, troubleshooting and historical maintenance information."

For the A320 and A330 aircraft, Airbus designed the ACMS reports produced by the Teledyne Flight Data Interface and Management Unit so they have exactly the right data needed for the Airbus AirMAN program, which is the Airbus aircraft maintenance and health monitoring solution.

21st Century Avionics Software & Database Management

Over the last 20 years, aircraft loadable software applications and associated configuration management have grown in complexity and can impose major maintenance and financial burdens on the operators of both older and current generation aircraft, such as the Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s — both of which are considered the workhorses of the majority of commercial airline fleets. Loadable software systems require operators to manage software libraries, software change assessment, procurement and production, receipt and distribution and quality audits for fleets of up to 300 or more aircraft, according to the International Air Transportation Association's (IATA) Engineering and Maintenance Group.

The majority of operators are also still using floppy disks to manually load and distribute LSPs onto line-replaceable units. This requires hundreds of software parts to be collected, duplicated and managed under an increasing volume of distribution requirements, especially with newer aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787. When new aircraft are delivered from the OEM, the operator is required to load a list of required software to meet the certification requirements tied to that specific airframe, which can be a laborious process when using floppy disks.

"One of the things driving automation is that floppy disks are becoming obsolete. Today, the majority of the airlines still load their monthly navigation database with floppy disks," said Cecil. "Sometimes one floppy disk is enough, [but] it can be as many as eight floppy disks because the databases are getting bigger. [For example], the display electronics unit takes eight floppy disks and it may take [from] an hour to an hour and a half to perform that loading. Whereas once you move to electronic media and you can electronically send it to the aircraft and electronically store it, it's much cleaner and faster."

That's where Teledyne's enhanced Airborne Data Loader (eADL) has again moved the industry into the 21st century. Norwegian Air Shuttle, for example, has installed the eADL on its fleet of 737 NGs. According to Aleksander Geist, senior avionics engineer at Norwegian, this has led to a savings of around $11,700 per month by allowing engineers to spend time on more important tasks and eliminating the use of floppy disks.

"We use the eADL to eliminate floppy disks. It has greatly improved the difficulties in producing, distributing and loading nav databases on floppy disks," said Geist. "Simply by using the eADL with a mass storage device allows us to have the required software stored onboard each airplane, which is a great advancement compared to the earlier onboard software binders with floppy disks. The distribution is done via USB, which is a great advancement over floppy disks."

Pegasus has also swapped out floppies for electronic media, according to Özen. The Turkish airline is using Teledyne's LoadStar Server Enterprise (LSE) solution to distribute and control aircraft software parts. LSE enables the monthly electronic distribution of NDBs and LSPs, along with a web-based distribution process that instantly transfers software parts to data loaders and directly to the aircraft via wireless data links. More than 40 airlines worldwide have deployed the use of LSE, though Pegasus has been the first to use it in combination with Teledyne's GroundLink and data acquisition systems to enable seamless data automation and management.

As Norwegian, Ryanair and Pegasus continue to use these new solutions and introduce modern data-centric aircraft into their fleets, the industry will continue to see the shift from traditional LSP uploading, data acquisition and monitoring methods to new wireless automation practices.

"One of the things driving automation is that floppy disks are becoming obsolete. Today, the majority of the airlines still load their monthly navigation database with floppy disks,"


"The analogy I like to use about the space we are in right now is that of transitioning from the traditional cell phone, with predominantly voice and a small amount of text, to the smartphone, which becomes predominantly data driven and the power that data gives to you on your smartphone," said Clear. "With the system we currently have in place from Teledyne for acquiring data, we believe in the opportunity from the data as being just unbounded. We can look at anything very quickly. When we see a deficiency we can analyze that to see where that deficiency is coming from and address it very, very quickly. When I talk about a game changer, that’s the big game changer."

Presented By

Story: Woodrow Bellamy III
Editor: Veronica Magan

Design, Layout and interactive: The Digital Development Team @ AI

Copyright © 2014. Access Intelligence, LLC.

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