Andrew Doyle/BRUSSELS


Boeing plans to launch major cockpit upgrade programmes for the 737 Classic, MD-80 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9 as airlines begin to address the problem of how to comply with future air navigation requirements.

The initiative is being driven by industry moves to establish a "free flight" regime in the USA and major air traffic control (ATC)improvements in Europe under the ATM 2000+ programme.

Among airlines being targeted by Boeing Airplane Services are Southwest Airlines of the USA, to retrofit its large fleet of Classics with the Next Generation 737 cockpit. Southwest is already studying the economics of the upgrade. American Airlines is understood to be looking at upgrading its MD-80s, possibly with 717 avionics, while Northwest is considering similar proposals for its DC-9 fleet.

The three airlines participated in a recent symposium organised by RTCA, the US communications, navigation, surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) industry association, which discussed efforts to modernise aviation infrastructure in the country.

Tim Fehr, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group vice-president airplane systems, says the company sees a potentially huge market for such cockpit upgrades as CNS/ATM initiatives are implemented. "There is no technical hold-up to doing it, but the question is going to be one of economics," he says.

US airlines face the challenge of equipping older aircraft with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and cockpit display of traffic information (CDTI) capabilities in preparation for the planned second phase of the FAA's free flight initiative.

ADS-B and CDTI, as well as an interim datalink system, are being tested in Europe under Eurocontrol's PETAL II programme. The problem for ATC authorities is that aircraft equipage will be on a voluntary basis. To encourage compliance, those carriers that invest in the new avionics will be able to take advantage of more efficient routes and flight levels.

"There are a large number of single-aisle aircraft that are not well-equipped for compatibility with the future air traffic system," says Fehr.

"Some of the larger carriers have begun explorations to determine the business case associated with equipping their fleets."

Fehr says the cost of the upgrades is likely to be variable, but could include new avionics , wiring upgrades, selected instrument replacements, initial training and spares. Airlines would also benefit from the increased reliability and lower maintenance costs compared with the analogue instruments that they would replace.

Source: Flight International