FARNBOROUGH 2008: Safety first - on the runway with Honeywell RAAS

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Airbus has added Honeywell’s Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) to its eCatalog web portal and service bulletin, and Air France is deploying RAAS across its entire fleet. These latest announcements highlight the increasing focus on runway awareness across the global aviation industry.

“The airport surface is one of the highest risk environments in aviation today,” said TK Kallenbach, Honeywell’s vice president of product management while testifying before the US House of Representatives in February 2008. “This is not some potential crisis looming on the distant horizon -- it is a problem right now.”

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) agrees, placing the need to “Improve Runway Safety” at the top of its renowned “Most Wanted List” in the aviation category for 2008.

In his testimony, Kallenbach noted that while in the past five years the rate of runway incursions in the US has remained relatively constant, serious incidents have actually increased by 10% since 2004. Kallenbach attributes this rise in part to increasing congestion in the air traffic system, not only in the air but also on landing, on approach, and on taxiways.

“The number of aircraft that are moving around increases the possibility of having an incursion,” Kallenbach notes, “as well as the fact that we are operating the aircraft closer together to help with the congestion problem. Some people say that the way to solve the safety issue is to increase the spacing and slow everybody down. The problem with that tactic is that slowing down will make the congestion worse!”

A primary factor contributing to runway incursions is human errors that position an aircraft in the path of another aircraft or vehicle, or on the wrong runway or taxiway. RAAS is designed to provide pilot awareness via aural warnings to help avoid these types of errors that can cause runway incursions and on-ground accidents during ground operations and on approach to landing.

Currently deployed on 1,700 aircraft flying today, RAAS is a software upgrade to existing Mark V or Mark VII Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems (EGPWS) from Honeywell. The software can be easily and economically added to aircraft already in service, as long as they have one of the two models of EGPWS.

RAAS is equipped with 10 optional warnings, enabling customization to address factors including aircraft routes, flight lengths, and even pilot characteristics such as language. RAAS can inform pilots about the runway or taxiway they are currently on, and the direction they are turning. During landing and take-off, RAAS also delivers immediate verbal feedback in cases of improper runway distance, assisting the pilot in making split-second decisions to abort a take-off or landing.

 honeywell raas

The system does not alert pilots when they are on the wrong runway or taxiway, however. RAAS only advises the pilot of the aircraft’s current location, heading and surroundings.

The RAAS warnings take the form of audio announcements in the cockpit, allowing pilots to remain “heads up” and visually alert to their surroundings without having to look down at a cockpit display. “With RAAS, we want to eliminate as many potential sources of error as we can,” Kallenbach explains. “RAAS doesn’t necessarily prevent the incursion or accident -- but it helps. If awareness is acute, you can break the chain of events that lead to a runway incursion.”

The inclusion of RAAS by Airbus will further support the growing adoption rate for Honeywell’s runway awareness solution. “We have seen an acceleration in the sales and incorporation of RAAS over the last few years,” Kallenbach confirms. “One of the reasons is that the early adopters in the airline industry have become familiar with RAAS. Another reason is that Airbus and other aircraft manufacturers have been helping us understand what the operators of their aircraft really want in terms of messaging, and how many advisories pilots want to hear.”

“Airbus has been terrific to work with in terms of helping us identify ways we can incorporate RAAS into the existing and future fleet as well as helping us develop features we can add in the not too distant future,” he adds. Certain airlines, such as Air France, are using both RAAS and an electronic flight bag with a moving map for enhanced runway awareness.

“The systems are complementary,” Kallenbach notes, “with RAAS providing verbal cues while the pilots are looking out the windows and the moving map backing them up with a picture of their position on the airport.”

Seeing the advantages that complementary systems can provide, Honeywell continues to strive for an ideal runway awareness system of the future. “Our assessment, at least initially, is that an oral warning with a visual cue is probably the best way for the pilot to get the relevant information,” says Kallenbach. “We are currently working on upgrading RAAS to combine verbal warnings with visual messages for the cockpit display, similar to the EGPWS system.”

Kallenbach expects the visual messaging feature to be available in the next generation of RAAS, to be released later this year or early 2009. “Certain people believe that the cockpit should be very quiet,” explains Kallenbach. “You shouldn’t hear anything on the pilot’s headset. Everything should be visual. Others believe that audio alone is fine, while some think that a combination of audio and visual is best. So we are developing a solution that will meet everyone’s needs.”

Honeywell and Sensis Corporation have also been collaborating on development of an integrated real-time runway incursion advisory solution using existing Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE-X) technology. With this new technology, controllers and pilots would receive warnings about runway conflicts or potential incursions.

“Today, in addition to runway incursions, the biggest issues for safety are loss of control and runway excursion, where an aircraft comes in hot or long and overruns the runway,” Kallenbach says. “At Honeywell, we are working on a number of different technologies that integrate with our EGPWS system to warn that the pilot is approaching too fast, too high or in the wrong configuration.”

In addition, a long-term solution Honeywell is developing involves Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B), which provides air traffic controllers and pilots with actual real-time positions of individual aircraft and surface vehicles, including the vehicle’s direction and velocity.

“RAAS is just another piece of our overall safety initiative at Honeywell,” Kallenbach concludes. “You are going to continue to see a series of products out of Honeywell that increase pilot awareness and the safety of air traffic. Safety is at the heart of what we do.”