Big strides have been made to improve safety in the cockpit. But continuous improvement requires ongoing upgrades. Mario Pierobon asks what the next logical steps to improving cockpit safety are?
There are many features being designed to bring additional safety to the business aircraft cockpit, as outlined by various avionics manufacturers interviewed for this article. Garmin, for example, strives to do so by adding safety-enhancing features such as synthetic vision, traffic and weather as capabilities or options among many of its products.
Matthew Carrico, Collins Aerospace Avionics explains, “With US and European mandates for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out set to take effect next year, we are seeing renewed interest in ADS-B In applications such as Cockpit Display of Traffic Information (CDTI).
“Basic CDTI in-air and on-ground improves traffic situation awareness and the pilot’s ability to see and avoid traffic. More advanced ADS-B In applications such as CDTI Assisted Visual Separation (CAVS) and Flight Interval Management (FIM) promise to increase airspace capacity by displaying the location and flight identification of traffic being followed, and precise traffic spacing indications.”
Collins has also introduced Synthetic Vision System (SVS) and multi-band Enhanced Vision System (EVS) cameras.
“SVS improves terrain and obstacle awareness in all phases of flight and is available on primary flight displays (PFD) and head up displays (HUD),” Carrico explains.
“Recent NASA studies indicate that synthetic vision improves recovery from unusual attitudes compared to a conventional blue over brown sky/ground representation. EVS provides the ability to see through clouds and fog all the way to the runway environment.
“EVS presented on a HUD provides lower landing minima in low visibility conditions and is useful – even on clear nights – eliminating ‘black hole’ approaches to terrain-challenged runways.”
Airport surface operations is another area Collins Aerospace is improving safety and capability through flight deck features such as highly detailed airport moving maps with own-ship position indication and the location of other traffic available from ADS-B In and, at equipped airports, Traffic Information Service - Broadcast (TIS-B).
New runway alerting algorithms warning a pilot if runways are too short, does not match the runway in the FMS, or is a surface other than a runway, such as a taxiway, are also being implemented by Collins.
How Future Avionics Will Lighten Crew Workload
Universal Avionics has been a way-maker with the introduction of Future Air Navigation System (FANS) and Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) for flight deck communications that are required for Oceanic operations and pre-departure clearances.
As the FAA moves forward with its NextGen initiatives, Data Comm, which is essentially FANS over the Domestic US, will utilize this same digital communication technology with the purpose of lightening crew workload and creating clearer, more precise communication between the flight deck and ATC.
Robert Randall, Universal Avionics’ US senior sales manager told AvBuyer, “Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS) are the latest safety technology being introduced and are gaining rapid momentum. As systems are being certified, EFVS offers significant safety improvements for operations in challenging adverse weather conditions. Some EFVS products are being certified to touchdown and rollout.
“Additionally, the FAA NextGen ‘Roadmap’ introduced Performance Based Navigation (PBN) which can only be met by installing a certified integrated Flight Management System (FMS) or GPS system which meets the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) specifications for it,” Randall adds.
“These operators will be approved to fly in preferred airspace as air traffic management reduces the separation between routes.”
The Need for Dark and Quiet Cockpit Design
At Embraer Executive Jets, the ‘quiet and dark’ cockpit philosophy guides interior design of the aircraft’s flight deck to continue to enhance situational awareness for pilots throughout all phases of flight.
“We’ve come a long way from the days when aircraft had a very complex operation and required a large crew which might have as many as five people,” reflects Jay Beever, Embraer Executive Jets’ VP, Interior Design. “Aviation has evolved, and aircraft now only need a crew with pilot and co-pilot, at the most.
“This innovation stems from new computing and automation technologies that implemented the rationale that pilots should only have access to the main flight indicators, such as altitude, speed, heading, flight map and engine conditions.
"The rest of the cockpit stays dark and quiet, and the crew is only alerted if something happens outside normal operations.”
As the level of integration of ever more capable technologies into the cockpit increases, so does the need to optimize the arrangement of the flight deck to ensure the quiet and dark philosophy continues to be achieved.
“As knobs and buttons disappear into consolidated functions, screen dimensions, content density and context-sensitive interactivity drive the quest to ensure the highest safety standards through every innovative iteration,” Beever continues.
“The next logical step is location, location, location. Prioritizing pilots’ field of view and the ergonomics to support and assist their human-machine interaction will ensure the preservation of the key design driver of cockpit safety.”
“It is easy to see the advancement in cockpits over the past few decades,” says Anne Lillywhite, director of engineering, Honeywell Aerospace. “The greatest impact to cockpit safety has come from connectivity and flight controls.
“From a flight controls perspective, Honeywell’s fly-by-wire system enables an electronic interface between the cockpit and the aircraft flight control surfaces to ensure a pilot can smoothly and safely handle the aircraft. And with a connected cockpit, pilots can communicate almost instantly with ground and air control. Any warning or update can be received in a matter of seconds, giving either the pilot, or control center time to react.
“Last year, Honeywell launched Aspire 400, which uses Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband–Safety service,” Lillywhite details. “This allows pilots to have access to a separate, secure data channel for essential safety communications in the cockpit, like text messaging with air traffic control, in-flight tracking services and electronic flight bag applications, dramatically enhancing safety within the cockpit, as well as improving communications.”
“Our product integration capabilities enable Honeywell to provide pilots with solutions that are integral to creating a safe flying experience and reducing pilot workload. For example, Honeywell’s Automatic Descent Mode (ADM) provides an extra layer of safety to aircraft owners, passengers and crew.
“If a depressurization occurs at high altitudes, for example, the autopilot and auto throttle will guide the aircraft to a safe altitude at maximum velocity, providing precious time to the pilot to focus on other critical activities, while establishing a safe flight path and staying conscious.”
Human Interface Targeted
Multiple areas of the cockpit’s human interface will continue to be targeted and, according to Universal Avionics, the main areas for upgrades will be Flight Management Systems (FMS), Head-Up and Head-Down display systems and Data Comm for Communications Management Units (CMU).
“These three systems will allow for more precise flight paths with digital communication capability,” Randall explains. “When packaged with better visibility via Enhance Fight Vision Systems (EFVS), the flight deck becomes safer with less crew workload.”
“If pilots can quickly interpret information properly and access in-flight information such as frequencies or instrument approach information, their workload is reduced,” Garmin offers.
“Ultimately, workload reduction and improving situational awareness are where we aim to improve pilot experience and – more importantly – enhance safety.”
From the perspective of Embraer Executive Jets, comfort is an important area. “Comfort is human, not technical, and it begins with personal space. When ergonomics is the priority over craftsmanship and design, enhancing and extending pilots’ bio-range and reducing their workload becomes organically achievable”, says Beever.
“We are targeting getting the right information to the pilot at the right time,” Carrico says, “placing an emphasis on information content, organization and access. For content, Collins Aerospace is innovating in both on-board sensors and information processing, as well as improving flight deck connectivity to off-board information sources through our ARINC GLOBALink data and voice network services.
“For information organization and access, Collins Aerospace touch-forward displays are generating a lot of interest from pilots. Touch-enabled displays provide a more intuitive user-interaction, are easier to learn, and quicker to use. These displays enable the development of ‘soft’ control panels, decluttering the flight deck from hard controls, and enabling control integration for functions like electronic checklists.”
What are the Other Focus Areas for Cockpit Safety?
Many other areas of cockpit technology will be focussed on improving safety, including introducing technology that automates tasks. “An example of that is Garmin Telligence voice command, which allows pilots to use voice control to perform common functions. Pilots can easily tune the nearest tower frequency or ask for the winds while on approach to land, without touching the avionics,” says Garmin.
Universal Avionics believes that ‘big data’ will play a huge role in cockpit safety. “This is the ability to monitor the aircraft systems continually with strategically-placed sensors. Information can be recorded and transmitted to maintenance and operations. If any flight-critical component is at high risk of a failure, the crew can be alerted and possibly diverted to avoid an incident or potential accident”, elaborates Randall.
Avoiding weather hazards of all types is critical to Business Aviation operators, and Carrico says Collins Aerospace is researching advanced sensors and algorithms for detecting and forecasting hazards such as icing, hail, lightning and turbulence.
“For long-range weather along the route, Collins Aerospace ARINCDirect supports flight deck weather graphics for a variety of avionics types, including next-generation flight decks with Collins Aerospace ProLine Fusion as well as Collins Aerospace ProLine 21 avionics suites”, he adds.
Technology is being utilized to minimize distractions within the cockpit, and to assist pilots in creating safe and efficient flying experiences, notes Lillywhite.
“Factors such as air congestion and mountainous terrain can make landing and take-off difficult and stressful for pilots. To combat this issue, Honeywell’s SmartView SVS synthesizes flight information from multiple onboard databases, GPS and inertial reference systems into a complete, easy-to-understand 3D rendering of the forward terrain.
"The system eases pilots’ workload and improves situational awareness, giving them a clear view of their surroundings day or night, whatever the weather.
Honeywell is also working in close cooperation with the pilot community to enhance the human-machine interface, says Lillywhite. “When it comes to improving cockpit safety, weather is a key challenge and often is seen as an unpredictable factor.
“Cockpit technologies are advancing to account for this challenge and to help pilots make more informed decisions before or during inclement weather. Honeywell’s IntuVue RDR-4000 3D Weather Radar System is the first and only automatic commercial radar to accurately depict weather in the flight path of an airplane. The solution is able to detect extreme weather at distances 50 percent farther away than any other onboard weather radar.
“IntuVue is a ‘connected radar’, allowing pilots to crowdsource inclement weather information from other IntuVue-equipped airplanes. Pilots and dispatchers can opt to immediately receive this information using the Weather Information Service app.”
Why Change Management is the Key
Innovative technology designed to further enhance the safety of the cockpit must be well-planned, and integrated with thoughtful consideration, however, as Beever summarizes.
“As innovations bring about changes in the flight deck real estate and field of view, change management will be key to ensure the preservation of the quiet and dark philosophy in the cockpit and the ergonomic value system. This should ensure that new displays, content, or controls that are added, do not interfere or cause a regression regarding the goals of cockpit resource management.”