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Thales connected cockpit puts 5D flight management on horizon

Thales is promising a “game-changer” in flight management systems (FMS) with an internet-connected but secure system designed to let pilots take advantage of the full spectrum of available flight, weather and air traffic data to realise optimised flight trajectories for time and fuel efficiency – from 2024.

Thales is promising a “game-changer” in flight management systems (FMS) with an internet-connected but secure system designed to let pilots take advantage of the full spectrum of available flight, weather and air traffic data to realise optimised flight trajectories for time and fuel efficiency – from 2024.

PureFlyt, unveiled on 25 November at the European electronic systems giant’s Toulouse development centre, will be certificated for line-fit or retrofit to enter service in five years, promises flight avionics vice-president Jean-Paul Ebanga. This “connected cockpit” concept, he says, does not exist today but will exploit vast quantities of data about the entire air traffic environment to optimise routing in real time throughout the duration of a journey.

Indeed, says Ebanga, PureFlyt will manage flight trajectories not only in “4D” – space and time, to minimise delays and maximise fuel efficiency by flying ideal routes – but in 5D. That fifth dimension is aircraft weight, which changes with load and, during flight, with fuel burn. Overall, the system could cut fuel consumption by 3-4%, reckons Thales.

Critically, adds Ebanga, Thales is developing its new FMS to tackle the challenge of four “megatrends” that will characterise aviation for several decades to come. First, the passenger aircraft fleet is expected to double in size by 2035 to accommodate traffic demand. At the same time, unmanned systems will start operating in this increasingly crowded airspace. Second, accommodating this growth will require more and more competitive solutions for air traffic and airline management.

Third, says Ebanga, this growth must respect environmental demands for emissions and noise reduction. Finally, Thales believes that the huge increase in the number of flying objects can only be accommodated safely with the data benefit of increasing connectivity.

CONNECTED SOLUTION

The guts of PureFlyt is an all-new and dedicated FMS computer, which will be isolated from the internet – but supplemented by an internet-connected, tablet-based electronic flightbag (EFB). Peter Hitchcock, vice-president commercial avionics, says the EFB should be a convenient interface when it is connected to the FMS via suitably secure channels. And, he says, the growing cohort of millennial-generation pilots may find the tablet to be a natural way to access flight and weather information – although it will not be suitable as a control device during safety-critical segments such as final approach.

This teaming of FMS and EFB, he says, is designed to minimise the gap between the “strategic” flightplan objectives – as devised on the ground and represented in the EFB – and the “tactical” reality of managing the flight through the secure FMS system that actually controls the aircraft.

PureFlyt, stresses Hitchcock, is an entirely new generation FMS – not, he says, an extension of any existing system. Service entry in the mid-2020s will see it still flying in the mid-2050s or even 2060s, so it has been necessary to devise a new system foreseeing changes in technology, regulations and operational priorities.

Product line manager Andre Cleroux describes the system as “mature”, having been tested on some 2 billion flight scenarios representing 100 million flight hours. Some 100 test and serving airline pilots from many countries have been to Toulouse to help Thales engineers working on PureFlyt.

Cleroux declines to detail short-term objectives for the ongoing development. But, he says, a key feature still being worked on is ensuring the system can simultaneously calculate both optimal and alternative routes – and show both to the pilot.