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​Thales underlines tech trends, issues facing aviation

Thales has identified three major trends in the aviation industry that will have a profound impact in the coming years.

Speaking at customer event in Singapore, Pierre Fossier, the company’s chief technical officer of Land and Air Systems, outlines three key trends: limiting and reducing the industry’s environmental impact, increasing efficiency while maintaining safety, and, as he terms it, “improving the delivery efficiency of assets,” such as aircraft and systems.

On the industry’s environmental impact, he says that designing aircraft with lighter materials and improved aerodynamics can go some way to reducing emissions. Other elements to improve efficiency are optimised flight paths and continuous descent into airports.

“We need to look at smart interleaving, where [landing] aircraft are not in a row on instrument landing system (ILS) flight path but interleaved and coming from different horizons. This requires new technology in terms of communication and navigation.”

Another trend, or challenge, is improving safety while increasing efficiency, particularly in an industry focused on keeping tight flight schedules. Better infrastructure at airports can help, as can technology, but it is essential that procedures be updated to match new technologies – yet with a firm eye on safety.

On the third point, “improving the delivery efficiency of assets,” Fossier says this could also be called “industrial efficiency.” He feels that product development cycles in the industry tend to take too long owing to the rigours of development, and then testing for certification.

“After eight years you have something, but the situation has evolved, so the specification is no longer valid,” he says. “[The industry] needs to be more agile in delivering small pieces of functionality [more frequently].”

He also feels that precise computer modelling could eventually allow for certification by modelling alone, without testing in the real world.

“Would you step in an aircraft certified by computation?” he asks. “We should think about this, but we need to convince the authorities that this is possible.”

Amid these long-term trends, there are two major changes taking place: digital transformation and rising automation.

He notes that certifying avionics software that is written with “tens of kilobytes” of code is relatively easy, mainly being a matter of providing enough documentation.

“Now take a million lines of code and produce evidence that you know everything it will do no matter the conditions, whatever the parameter. How can you manage complexity and safety, and certify non-deterministic software?”

Taking this a step further, Fossier foresees the industry becoming less vertically integrated, with greater automation in air traffic management working with more automated aircraft.

“If you share authority between ground and onboard systems, the responsibility for safety is not only in the aircraft, but on the ground as well. So you open up the bubble and you have to certify the ATM systems.”

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