Canada's CMC to develop new integrated cockpit

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CMC Electronics has begun developing a new integrated cockpit featuring full-time head-up displays and open architecture that is likely to be available on mid- to large-size business jets from 2013.

The Canadian avionics manufacturer launched in January a C$149 million ($122 million) five-year government-backed research project that is expected to result in the development of new-generation cockpit technologies and position CMC as a leading avionics integrator for business jets.

CMC is already a major avionics supplier in corporate jets, including enhanced vision and navigation systems and electronic flight bags, but until now its integration experience has been limited to military aircraft.

CMC vice-president of strategy and business development Gerald Charland says the FronTier project will leverage its integration experience from the military sector and create a cockpit for the business jet community "that will be quite different than what's on the market now".

Frontier-cockpit-445 
 © CMC Electronics

He adds that the main objectives is to offer head-up technology "all the time", an open architecture that allows insertion of "best-in-class technology" from any vendor and a paperless cockpit.

Charland acknowledges other companies are working on similar technologies, but he claims CMC's cockpit concept is totally new and has already been positively received by several business jet manufacturers. He says CMC is breaking away from the traditional concept in which operators need to go back to cockpit suppliers for upgrades and maintenance.

CMC instead envisages the aircraft manufacturer taking ownership of the avionics suite without any proprietary restrictions that limit which vendors can be used. CMC believes this will give manufacturers - which under the CMC concept will be able to put their own logo on flight displays - more flexibility as technology evolves and lower the cost of ownership.

While development is just getting under way, CMC has been working on a pre-feasibility study since mid-2007. Charland says several manufacturers participated in the study and their initial interest leaves CMC confident it can secure OEM commitments by the end of this year. "It's an R&D project, but like all good projects we want to make sure we have an OEM to capture," he says.

The product will not be exclusive to a single business jet manufacturer and CMC aims to later introduce it in helicopters and regional aircraft. To get an adequate return on its investment, CMC also expects the project will result in several new technologies that will be sold separately for a wide range of new aircraft and on the retrofit market.

While the new cockpit is likely to feature several CMC-produced systems, CMC has also begun talking to several other avionics suppliers. Charland expects strategic alliances with partners, including companies with organisations larger than CMC, will be finalised by the end of this year.

"Obviously we won't master everything in the cockpit," he says. "We're talking to lots of companies."

CMC has already committed C$97 million of its own funds to the project and will eventually repay the C$52 million the Canadian government is providing.