Air transport would be lost without software systems. Brendan Gallagher describes two new products designed to help carriers navigate the skies and make their way through the maze of modern business
The lives of the crew who ferried the Airbus A380 to Singapore from its Toulouse flight-test base were made a lot easier by the electronic charts readily available to them on the flight deck. For that they had to thank Lufthansa Systems and its Lido eRouteManual.
Airbus and the German airline IT solutions provider have been working since last year to develop paperless cockpits for all of the European airframer’s types. Last month the two companies cemented their collaboration with a contract covering the integration of eRouteManual into new Airbus aircraft and retrofits into existing aircraft.
One of the first fruits of the co-operation is the availability of eRouteManual airport and route charts via the A380’s On-board Information System (OIS). Showgoers can take a look at typical charts at the Lufthansa Systems stand (stand 433, Hall A), which also features the company’s new FACE (Future Airline Core Environment) passenger management system.
FACE supports all the standard passenger-related processes - reservations, inventory, ticketing, passenger services and revenue management. One of its prime strengths, according to Lufthansa Systems, is its ability to allow airlines to distribute their products through a wider variety of channels instead of being locked into dominant travel agencies and global distribution systems (GDS) such as Amadeus and Sabre.
Lufthansa Systems announced Garuda Indonesia as the launch customer for FACE last year, and eRouteManual is now in operational use aboard the A380. As the aircraft being displayed here goes through its paces, the crew can quickly access detailed taxi, departure and approach charts via permanently installed visual display units on the console in front of them.
In that form eRouteManual is one of the applications being delivered by a Class 3 electronic flight bag (EFB) installation – permanently integrated into the cockpit and requiring airworthiness certification. The way for the A380 installation was prepared by a Class 2 arrangement – portable, but attached to the aircraft with a mounting device – in Airbus’s A340-600 flight-test aircraft. Combining the eRouteManual software with a laptop-style unit mounted on a fixture designed to slide away beneath the main console on the A340 flightdeck, this was first shown in public at last year’s Paris air show.
eRouteManual will also run on Class 1 EFBs – standard laptops or tablet PCs that can be carried on to the aircraft as a source of information, but which are not cleared for use during take-off and landing.
Oliver Plogmann, Lufthansa Systems’ head of product management for airline flight support, believes the business case for the introduction of EFBs is now beginning to crystallise. “The installation cost has stayed substantially the same, but the hardware is now much cheaper, down from $150,000 to as little as $5, 000,” he says. “I also see Class 2 EFBs getting most of the retrofit business. New aircraft like the A380 will have Class 3s line-fitted as a matter of course, but Class 2s are cheaper for retrofit and their comparative limitations are operationally insignificant.”
Plogmann expects low-cost start-ups to be among the first to move to EFB-based paperless cockpits under Airbus’ FlySmart initiative: “They’re not burdened with legacy systems and can move faster to adopt completely new processes based on electronic documentation.”
FlySmart also addresses the connectivity systems used to deliver updated data to EFBs in the cockpit. Airbus plans to offer a choice of Gatelink and GSM/UMTS cellular later this year, while Lufthansa Systems is looking at web-based delivery via wireless laptops.
eRouteManual data comprises worldwide airport and en-route aeronautical information, detailed taxi, departure and approach charts, and global en-route moving charts. Lufthansa Systems’ database-driven approach to the production of electronic supports functions such as single-procedure presentation of standard instrument departures and arrivals, and visualisation of sector minimum altitudes. It also gives access to text-based information such as national regulations and airport operating procedures.
Other advantages of the database approach include continuous updates and dynamic text placement during the creation of charts to ensure best fit and avoid covering up other information.
eRouteManual is part of Lufthansa Systems’ portfolio of digital data products and services, which is designed to cover all flight-related processes, both on the ground and in the air. Italian carrier Eurofly contracted earlier this month for eRouteManual, route-planning and crew briefing services, and monthly updates of its flight management system (FMS) navigation databases.
Lufthansa Systems also supports airline commercial operations and has been offering its MultiHost passenger management system for some years. Last summer the company announced that MultiHost would be superseded by the more capable FACE, developed at a cost of $48 million to compete with the comparable SabreSonic.
Partnering Lufthansa Systems in the development of FACE is Unisys, which has years of experience of creating standard applications for airlines. Many FACE components are based on modules from the AirCore product suite recently developed by Unisys.
Compared with the widely used MultiHost, FACE is designed to give airlines the ability to manage the distribution of their product much more actively so that they can take full advantage of the wider range of channels, especially the internet, that is now available.
New functions in FACE include independent reservation capability, a distribution handler for managing distribution channels, and SchedLink, offering automated, alliance-compatible codeshare management. But the real driver is the airlines’ desire to break the dominance of the classic global distribution systems – with their market-access restrictions and fees of around $12 per ticket – and maximise access to GDS-independent distribution platforms.
With their mission to squeeze costs out of their operations, the low-fare carriers can be expected to pay a lot of attention to FACE. Lufthansa Systems describes it as suitable for a variety of airline business models – from the low-fares all the way up to classic full-service network carriers with global route networks.
FACE also represents a strategic shift by Lufthansa Systems, away from simple systems provision and towards acting as a full-service supplier of passenger systems and supporting IT solutions. Last year it took a major step down that road by registering with IATA to operate FACE as a computer reservation system on behalf of its customers.