Guillaume Lapeyronnie, Cockpit Marketing Manager at Thales Avionics explains how a new approach to avionics was conceived and brought to life
A new concept for a new age of aviation
In its work on the connected and digital aircraft, Thales realized that the aerospace industry is fast approaching the limit of the complexity and number of functionalities which can be included in the current designs of cockpit architecture. That’s the reason why we are strongly convinced there is a clear and present need to redefine the cockpit system of the future. In pursuit of this vision, Thales has developed a concept called ODICIS (One Display for a Cockpit Interactive Solution) that was unveiled at the Paris Air Show in 2011. This concept was demonstrated on a single screen, with hands-on direct interaction for the pilot. The single screen offers the pilot scope to deliver more flexibility for organization of the information within the cockpit. Founded upon this initial concept, Thales has developed a new generation system called Avionics 2020. This cockpit implements the philosophies and principles of the original vision, enriching it by the use of new mature technologies, to arrive at a next generation cockpit avionics system which can be made available for entry into service by the year 2020.
The first challenge in designing such breakthrough technology was to identify who it would serve. Avionics 2020 is aimed at both civil and military applications across all market segments, including commercial air transport, business jets, helicopters, and military fighters and trainers. Thales believes that it is likely that the concept’s initial introduction will probably be in the business jet or the helicopter segments.
By starting with the end users’ global value chain, the primary goal has been to define what value Avionics 2020 solutions can deliver. For that reason, we must first analyze market expectations. Having conducted thorough market research, we were able to flesh out the various benefits that we intend to deliver with Avionics 2020.
Right through the value chain
For pilots, the foremost goal of Avionics 2020 is to ease flight crew operations while improving quality across three distinct functionalities. In pilot training, there is a clear need for a solution that will significantly reduce training time while maintaining and ultimately improving the quality and effectiveness of that training. Following is the expectation that any new system should reduce or optimize workload, especially during periods of high-density activity, i.e. take-off, landing, and approach, but also during normal cruise operations, in order to anticipate tasks during the subsequent phases of the flight. Finally, pilots are concerned about situational awareness. We need to introduce new solutions to improve their awareness during all aspects of the flight.
Much like those of pilots, the changing needs of operators and passengers must be addressed. Naturally, the primary concern remains that of safety. Thus, the next generation of technology developed through Avionics 2020 will be structured to deliver new safety improvements. As in all commercial ventures, there is a major incentive to reduce operating costs, be that, among other things, minimizing fuel burn or aircraft maintenance costs. Beyond that, the third potential benefit for operators concerns mission flexibility and efficiency, to expand the aircraft’s operational capabilities (for instance, to equip it so it is able to land anywhere in any weather conditions) or optimize the mission in terms of navigation, so as to reduce mission duration or range.
There is also potential benefit for airframe OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Their main expectation regarding any new solution is to reduce the costs of its implementation, installation and integration into their aircraft. Additionally, OEMs need to create differentiation, so any solutions will need to be able to be customized, adaptable and bespoke. Finally, for OEMs, Avionics 2020’s capacity to easily evolve throughout the aircraft life cycle will significantly reduce costs and time for implementation of these solutions.
Building on all of these drivers, the key features of Avionics 2020 are based on three essential pillars.
A crew-centric design to ease flight crew operations
Avionics 2020 offers crew centric design with touch screen interactions. The major part of the cockpit is touch screen capable, which facilitates natural and intuitive interaction, letting the pilots rotate, zoom in, zoom out and so on, just as you might expect on an iPhone or iPad. In addition, the introduction of touch screens also allows us to optimize the global ship set of the solution, replacing some physical control panels with virtual ones, for instance. Naturally introducing touch screens into the cockpit raises several questions. Would it be considered difficult to operate a vertical touch screen as well as safely operate the controls during turbulence? With this in mind, the screen positions of Avionics 2020 have been redesigned with added hand rests and finger grips to make it easier to manage them efficiently and safely in all conditions.
Touch screen and regulators
Thales addresses certification issues by working closely with authorities such as the EASA and plans to liaise with the FAA very shortly. The purpose of the discussions is to clearly identify which regulations are applicable to Avionics 2020 and which are not and, thus be able to anticipate what will need to change. We are currently working with EASA on certification to include touchscreens in future aircraft. In parallel, we are also discussing changes to the system’s user interface. We support the discussions with simulated and real flight tests. For instance, a panel of pilots evaluated the consequences of using touch screens in turbulent conditions on a 6-axis simulator.
A seamless display
A key aspect of the global cockpit installation is its ‘seamless’ display. We consider the global cockpit as a single screen and as a whole surface. Rather than having separate displays with physical separation between them, we want the pilot to be able to move, say, a chart from one part of the display to another, thus achieving a level of flexibility about the organization of the information. Furthermore, the seamless design of the cockpit makes it more functional. Linking different parts of the cockpit, the seamless display lets pilots, for example, select radio frequency in the mission interface of the cockpit and move it to the radio management virtual control panel where the frequency will then be used. Simplifying on-board actions, Avionics 2020 helps pilots understand, visualize, and check the result of each action.
Information organized to support the task
Another Avionics 2020 breakthrough concerns the organization of information within the cockpit. Current cockpit design uses system-centric organization – one system, one interface with some logical organization to facilitate the juxtaposition or superimposition of information. But to achieve a global understanding of the situation, it is up to the pilot to integrate information coming in from different systems. With Avionics 2020, the whole organization of the cockpit, including interfaces for flying the aircraft, mission management, and systems management have been studied extensively with the objective to get all information the pilot may require to better perform any necessary tasks.
In addition, rather than being riddled with irrelevant and unnecessary data, the cockpit only shows the information that is needed, when it is needed. There are too many instances today where pilots might miss critical information because of the excess of information on their display or through the natural confusion created by the myriad of different colors on their interface. Displays on Avionics 2020 have been designed to focus the pilot’s attention on what is important through an intuitive organization of the information. For instance, the aircraft system management interface offers a global view encompassing all systems with integrated checklists and touch controls within the interface to help the pilot directly manage the aircraft.
Finally, the interface affects the piloting itself. Here, the goal is to have global information display, including an unlimited vision of the surrounding space using possible ‘eyes-out’ displays. We are working both to improve conventional solutions, like introducing color in head-up display, but also on alternative solutions such as head-worn display systems.
Using all available information to manage the mission
The second pillar for Avionics 2020 is about the mission to be able to include new services and new functions within the solution and connect it with extraneous systems to help the crew and all those working around the aircraft to arrive at correct decisions and manage the mission more efficiently. From a cockpit point of view, it integrates functionalities to improve operational flexibility and anticipation not only for a specific flight but also for the global mission including sequencing of several flights. Furthermore, with Avionics 2020, these tasks are not limited to the cockpit but are also accessible using mobile devices such as EFBs (electronic flight bags) that can be connected with the Thales solution.
Working with outside systems
Following from Thales’s leading position in aircraft connectivity, Avionics 2020 has been developed to be integrated to the connected environment along three axes. First of all, the cockpit integrates all modes of communications with Air Traffic Management, and is future proofed to include functionalities dictated by modernization programs like SESAR and NextGen. Then, specific to the business jet segment, Avionics 2020 fosters a more seamless link with services providers which act as Airlines Operations Centers for business jets, with the intention of facilitating more efficient flight management for the pilot. Finally, because of its open world-closed architecture, the cockpit can securely integrate open world information and link with devices such as tablets, enabling pilots to plan operations in advance.
Connectivity with all kinds of open-world systems will be needed to get information, for instance, regarding NOTAMs, weather or to get charts integrated into the cockpit. So, the goal here is not to replace an EFB system but to integrate that information in the cockpit’s interface, eliminating any differences or redundancies between avionics systems and EFB system from the pilot’s point of view. We’ll still need EFB systems for mobility but the goal with Avionics 2020 is to improve mission efficiency by creating secure connectivity between both.
What’s in it for the OEMs?
The third consideration is about both the operator’s and OEM’s ability to customize the solution to create their own variables. The goal is to share the largest common parts between different segments, using the same building blocks but to create adapted solutions for air transport, business jets, helicopters and military applications. In addition, we are defining new sets of tools to enable operators to get the right level of flexibility while simultaneously allowing OEMs to use those tools to make their own cockpit concept using Avionics 2020’s skeleton design. The customization can be carried out either by us or by the OEM. Furthermore, the concept is scalable, based on an open and modular architecture. This feature makes the system capable of integrating third party functions, offering only dedicated equipment, sub-systems and their related interfaces or the full avionics suite solution.
Developing the concept with the market
To get the most comprehensive market feedback, we are collaborating with a multidisciplinary team, which includes marketing, engineers, human factor specialists and pilots. Thus, we decided to create two different demonstrators, one dedicated to helicopter application and one for fixed wing application, to be able to apply the concept to their respective markets, to customers and to end users, and to get feedback from the market. So far we’ve received very positive feedback. We already integrated and used that feedback to make further improvements to Avionics 2020, to have a truly iterative approach.
With such a revolutionary product, we are very proud that this new concept was awarded with the ‘best of the best’ Red Dot Design award for 2013.
Guillaume Lapeyronnie, Cockpit Marketing Manager, Thales Avionics
Guillaume holds an engineering degree (MSc) of MINES ParisTech and is a Lean Sigma Black-Belt with 12 years’ experience in cockpit and display systems. He started as an advanced studies engineer at Thales and was coordinator of several projects while having spent 3 years managing performance improvement projects in both production and R&D domains. Guillaume has now integrated the marketing direction of the Global Business Unit Avionics where he is deeply involved in the Avionics 2020 project.
Thales Group designs and builds electrical systems and provides services for the aerospace, defense, transportation and security markets. The company has 68,000 employees in more than 50 countries. With the underlying philosophy of ‘building smarter solutions together’, Thales has invested $25 billion in research and development and enjoys its place being listed as a top 100 global innovator. Every day over 130,000 passengers use Thales in-flight system equipment.