AID and Application Hosting
Author: Jean-Marie Begis, Director EFB and Aircraft Information Systems, Esterline Avionics SystemsSubscribe
AIDs and Application Hosting
Jean-Marie Begis, Director EFB and Aircraft Information Systems, Esterline Avionics Systems looks at the role Aircraft Interface Devices (AIDs) can play in improving the aviation IT environment and performance
As aircraft flight operations and maintenance have become increasingly paperless and as flying is increasingly enabled by data driven processes, one piece of hardware has emerged as a focal point on many technology configurations. In this article, we share with readers a number of aspects of Aircraft Interface Devices (AIDs), including how they can support growth in terms of application hosting and delivering high value benefits and how AIDs can be the enabler of many capabilities and functions that will improve the way airlines operate.
AIDs have become an important element of discussion in aviation technology circles and many operational objectives are reliant on AIDs today; especially those that could be summed up as, ‘How can I get and use aircraft data?’
SUPPORTING BETTER AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS
Aside from general aircraft data access and data management improvements, AID systems can support more efficient flight operations through flight plan optimization based on real-time weather information, increased situational awareness and turbulence avoidance as well as with other applications that drive improved passenger comfort, safety and timekeeping. It is now recognized that well-integrated flight fuel optimization software can help achieve reductions of 2% to 5% in fuel savings.
SUPPORTING BETTER MAINTENANCE OUTCOMES
From a maintenance support perspective, AIDs might deliver a 10% to 30% reduction in removal and maintenance related costs in the drive towards zero AOG (aircraft on ground) aircraft operations. These maintenance benefits can be enabled not only through connectivity but also using applications that continually keep ground maintenance informed on the health of the aircraft. This allows for early troubleshooting and preparation while an aircraft is still in the air. The maintenance benefits in costs savings, reduced downtime and increased reliability come from improvements based on the introduction of preventative but also predictive maintenance.
From an aircraft maintainability perspective, there might be up to 25% reduction that can be obtained in troubleshooting interventions and reductions in missed opportunities to visit the aircraft earlier rather than later. There could also be cost avoidance related to the capability to remotely manage the state of avionics and their respective software releases and content, including FMS (flight management system) databases. This approach eventually helps reduce costs such as personnel cost, delay cost and related aspects of maintenance lifecycle.
AIDs AS THE ENABLER
As airlines can have very different operations and maintenance issues to address, they need a flexible and evolvable platform onboard the aircraft where the AIDs can become the enabler.
Traditionally, core AID capabilities have been mainly associated with safely and reliably accessing aircraft data. An application that comes to mind is getting own ship position and key aircraft data to EFB applications in all phases of flight. Connectivity capabilities supported by the AID devices multiply the value of the situational awareness features associated with these applications that can be operated from tablet devices or more classically installed EFBs.
More recently and as an indicator of industry directions, ARINC (Aeronautical Radio INC) has initiated ideas via their APIM (ARINC Project Initiation/Modification) process that would lead to the evolution of AIDs into AID servers. One reason is that the AIDs are not only connectivity units and aircraft interface systems but they can also have processors and storage that enable them to function as aircraft data and network servers.
From a vendor perspective (figure 1), we see AIDs as having the potential to be the support for EFB flight ops applications, cabin services, and maintenance domains, having access to all the needed aircraft data and supporting the pre-requisite secure network servers functions.
AIDs are designed from the ground up and our products at Esterline are designed with security in mind. They enable a number of different connectivity options such as Satcom connectivity, wireless connectivity to the ground and, at the same time, support wireless access to these resources for tablets as well as cockpit and cabin applications. As illustrated in figure 1, Downlink Data Services are driven by the requirements to get more and more aircraft data on a reliable and continuous basis to the ground for maintenance purposes in particular. Uplink Data Services deal with getting remote data loading to airplanes and open the door to remote maintenance, making them fully connected with line and technical operations.
Last, but not least, application hosting on AIDs creates an open software platform environment that can be managed and updated by operators to introduce a wide range of data processing, messaging and customized applications.
AIDs AND APPLICATION HOSTING
AIDs can be used for storage, for example to support paperless e-techlogs. They can also be used for application processing so they can run and execute complex applications. AIDs currently on the market have, in some cases, faster and better processors than parts of the avionics systems onboard, while not being subject to the same level of software certification which in itself has considerable benefits. That is to say that they can change and evolve faster than certified avionics for good reasons. And then those AIDs can be seen essentially as software and data servers that provide secure services such as authentication, encryption, certificate support and cloud services access; all very important to the range of applications and services that are enabled with the connected aircraft.
There are several ways for operators to introduce new software and applications based on technology and maturity of the AID platform. The classic way would be to extend the functional scope of the AID with ‘embedded’ software. Other approaches include using the concept of ‘container’ applications, a method available with the Linux operating system environment and now largely deployed in support of cabin in-flight entertainment applications. These types of hosted application can be developed by third parties and operators in a reasonably flexible environment from a development lifecycle standpoint.
Beyond these two options, the use of virtual machines can be considered. It offers a lot of flexibility and portability to application developers. Existing applications can be readily hosted in their native operating system which can be Windows, Linux, or Android leading to much reduced integration time and efforts. The secure virtual machine environment provided by Esterline AIS also caters for data and services isolation. Operators now have an open platform on aircraft, so they can invest in AIDs and get the long-term benefits of application evolutions at a lifecycle cost that is very reasonable compared to certified and more complex avionics.
ADDING VALUE TO FLIGHT OPERATIONS
For flight operations, several applications can deliver those benefits immediately; applications such as flight planning data management tools offering a more complete view of flight related parameters like integrated weather data and phases of flight optimization based on the aircraft data and connectivity supported by AIDs. More related to aircraft performance tools, there are a number of legacy applications and OEM applications that need the support of AID server. These applications have often been based on complex and legacy algorithms while our AIS virtual machine environment offers a cost effective way of introducing them on aircraft.
Datalink messaging, available with the Esterline product, brings immediate benefits to cockpit operations with instant communication, instant messaging in all phases of flights, ACARS Datalink and ACARS over IP being supported in Esterline AIS connectivity platform environment. The list of applications can be quite long. Future plans include advanced flight plan optimization tools and weather avoidance tools, where complex calculations can be hosted on the AID device. TASAR trials performed by NASA in North America illustrate well this trend and potential benefits of AIDs.
ADDING VALUE TO MAINTENANCE
Interest in paperless Electronic Technical Logs (ETLs) and their actual implementation is increasing. It requires the AID to support additional features including safe data storing and current data and fully synchronized with the ground maintenance at all times.
QAR/DAR (Quick Access Recorder/Digital ACMS Recorder) and FOQA (Flight Operations Quality Assurance) data logging and high performance data collection are very important types of application that can be hosted on AID and that would be of interest to maintenance. In the same vein, avionics integrated health management is increasingly important to operator’s and we are seeing the potential for having enough bandwidth connectivity and access to avionics to support a snapshot view of all aircraft systems and their health status so that, on the ground again, remote maintenance can occur.
Looking at the longer term, there is a lot of potential for predictive maintenance as well as evolution in the quality and amount of data that can be made available to that system both coming from and going to the ground. This should create an ecosystem of data elements that will allow the airline to have a complete view of maintenance indicators yesterday, today and tomorrow. This can all be built on the processing and hosting capability available with AIDs.
TECHNICAL BENEFITS ENABLED BY AIDs
Complex and time critical processing can be supported because of the advances in processors as well as the possibility to have all aircraft EFB and maintenance applications data shared across fleets. Since airlines are increasingly looking at shared cross fleet solutions, AID can become the platform from which software configuration and updates can be managed supporting regular field updates of those high value hosted applications.
OPERATIONAL BENEFITS ENABLED BY AIDs
One important benefit for operators is independence because they can free themselves of some ties with OEMs. They can have new applications that actually meet their needs, new tools with third parties that they can deploy on their devices within the constraints of data loading regulations that apply to such certified systems. Reduced deployment time means being able to deploy fleet-wide a new version of the predictive maintenance tools and being able to seamlessly manage this from the ground server that handles such data loading functions.
Finally, when operators have invested heavily into legacy applications such as Windows-based applications, the AID hosting environment can allow them to re-use those applications and rely on the benefits of secure virtual machine technology.
From an IT integration standpoint, all the above will mean complexity. It starts with access control for the tablets and other devices that are used to operate the cockpit and cabin applications. A second important consideration is how the AID will manage and optimize the use of connectivity. There is complexity in policy decisions being made depending on the type of data, communication routes, priorities, whatever application needs supporting.
Data security and protection are also very important; many airlines are reluctant about sharing their information. Since ground IT systems implementation varies greatly from one airline to another, this AID-based system can be adapted so that configurations and integration can be harmonized between the IT groups involved.
Integration also leads to a number of constraints or requirements in the area of security such as (figure 2) securing the aircraft and the corporate network, which needs to be protected from any risk of data coming in and not coming out, and to be able to respond rapidly to threats. Hence, security needs to be updated on a regular basis.
SECURITY IMPLEMENTATION CHALLENGES
It is important to be able to offer a secure and flexible solution that we call the toolbox. There are no generic rules or regulations for security implementation because each airline’s configuration will generate different risk areas requiring different threat management strategies. It’s more about developing a set of guidelines and guidance material so that each and every operator can define the security scheme that they need. The toolbox (see above), is a set of features and capabilities that are part of the Esterline AIS Connectivity Solution. It supports enforcement of rules of security and an operating system that has the properties to ensure the security lifecycle by filtering three times. Sometimes called ‘layered security’ or ‘defense in deep’, it includes a number of levels of controls and configurations where each and every aspect of communication be it at a low level, at a data management level or at the application content level, can be segregated. Everyone knows to report any occurrence that is new, unexpected or wrong.
AID capabilities can be significantly expanded and developed to deliver application support, data storage as well as aircraft data and connectivity. Benefits for operators include predictive integrated maintenance support, advanced flight optimization for time management, fuel management, cost reductions as well as the possibility of regular evolutions of software.
Implementation of software capabilities requires IT integration support as each airline has its own infrastructure. IT also has to ensure that the security lifecycle management process is implemented or can be implemented with suitable system capabilities and software.
With more than 25 years in business development and implementation of mission critical mobile communications, aircraft datalink services and aerospace systems, Jean-Marie Bégis has experience in the management of Avionics, Aircraft Datalink, and Cockpit and Cabin Information Systems Programs. He was previously involved in the deployment of aircraft datalink systems at SITA in Montréal as Director of Engineering and, more recently, he managed the EFB and Aircraft Information Systems business unit as Product Director at Esterline
Esterline, and its CMC Electronics branded products have achieved an international reputation for innovation and excellence in the design and manufacture of advanced displays for the military and commercial aviation markets. The company focuses on delivering innovative cockpit systems integration, avionics and display solutions to its customers worldwide.