Flight deck enhancements increase aircraft value and improve flight safety.
By Shannon Forrest
President, Turbine Mentor
ATP/CFII. Challenger 604/605, Gulfstream IV, MU2B
Every primary flight student learns the answer to the question, “What makes an airplane fly?” Some give a short, rote answer, while others go on and on about Bernoulli’s principle and Newton’s Third Law in a way that only a college physics teacher could appreciate.
Flight department managers, chief pilots, or those tasked with minding the budget, answer the question in a different way. In a single word, what makes an airplane fly is money. When it comes to cash available to spend, there’s a dichotomy between those at the top and those at the bottom.
Some departments have a lot of it, whereas others seem to struggle to get a dollar from the corporate accountant or thrifty owner. Pilots who are fortunate to work under a management philosophy of “money is no object” always seem to have the latest and greatest cabin amenities, performance enhancements, and avionics.
Operators with infinite budgets often swap one model for another as soon as the newest becomes available, despite the previous iteration of the aircraft looking showroom-new. On the other hand, those with a more restrictive budget tend to own an aircraft for a longer period.
The truth is that, with enough time in service, an aircraft can appear outdated. Owners not in the financial position to trade up to a brand-new aircraft sometimes renovate an older aircraft to give it a more modern look. Unfortunately, many owners think only in terms of aesthetics when it comes to aircraft modernization.
On the one hand, this makes sense, because passengers rarely know (or care) what’s happening in the front of the plane. Their chief concern is getting from point A to B quickly and comfortably.
As a result, when money is allotted for refurbishment, it goes straight to cabin furnishings, such as new interiors, Wi-Fi, or inflight entertainment systems. When all the refurbishment funds are directed at the cabin, pilots can feel left out, especially when their flight deck could reap the benefits of the latest technology.
Asking management to free up budget for additional equipment or cockpit enhancements is an awkward conversation to have. Sometimes, however, the difference between yes and no is a matter of perspective.
Cockpit upgrades are not there just to make a pilot’s life easier, although that’s a worthy cause to a pilot, but flight deck improvements also generate efficiency and enhance safety. Lastly, there’s the issue of airspace-mandated equipment prescribed by authorities.
FAA’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS–B) mandate requires aircraft to be equipped with a certified position source specified by FAR 91.227 to operate in airspace defined by FAR 91.225 (in a nutshell Class A, B, and C, and in nearby proximity).
It illustrates how a regulatory mandate can provide an opportunity for an avionics upgrade. When the ADS-B rule was first proposed, it caused quite an uproar in the aviation community at large. At the forefront of the conversation was the financial cost of compliance.
Corporate operators complained about extensive aircraft downtime in the belief that avionics shops would be overwhelmed by a backlog of orders. The general aviation community screamed that pilots would sell their aircraft en masse, rather than comply with what they thought was an onerous requirement.
In order to address financial concerns, avionics manufacturers began offering basic ADS-B devices at a much lower cost than originally proposed. In the end, pilots had several options that ran the gamut of retail pricing.
Behavioral economics then took over as the concept of compound value provided the impetus for operators to gain additional features by spending “just a little more.”
Everyday life is filled with examples of this concept. At the movie theater, the clerk behind the counter offers the large popcorn for just an extra dollar. The Internet provider increases the price of services individually, but packages the same items in a bundle.
It costs more than you would have spent but less than if you bought things individually. Thus, perceived value is increased, and the customer often will go for the upsell.
In the arena of ADS-B, many operators eschewed the lowest-cost option in favor of a more expensive one that came with additional features, or one which had the capacity to add functionality later without a substantial increase in cost down the road.
The Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion upgrade to the Challenger 604 illustrates the net gain that can be had. Collins advertises that the installation comes with a fully-loaded package of baseline equipment for operation in modernizing global airspace beyond ADS-B mandate compliance. But wait, there’s more!
The Pro Line Fusion retrofit can display geo-referenced charts and high-resolution topographical maps on touchscreens, provides synthetic vision system (SVS) that depicts terrain and obstacles, and offers lower landing minimums through WAAS and LPV approaches.
FANS 1/A capability is incorporated as well. FANS1/A (or equivalent CPDLC/ADS-C equipment) is required to operate in the ICAO North Atlantic Region between FL290 and FL410, so having the equipment provides the advantage of a more efficient transatlantic preferential routing.
By installing the Pro Line Fusion upgrade, operators get the same cockpit advantages of the Challenger 605/650 without the financial commitment of purchasing a new aircraft.
In May 2021, Duncan Aviation in BTL (Battle Creek MI) delivered a 604 with a Pro Line Fusion conversion, and more aircraft are on the order sheet. The product is also available through Nextant Aerospace in conjunction with Bombardier service centers.
Future-proof business jets
Taking a glance at what’s rolling off the assembly lines provides some insight into what the future holds, even if one is not in the market for a new aircraft.
The Bombardier Global 5000/6000 and the Gulfstream G650/G650ER are delivered as FANS 1/A-compliant bizjets. As post-pandemic air traffic continues to ramp up, airspace capacity constraints, along with NextGen implementations, will eventually dictate additional modernization requirements.
Departments not currently operating internationally should still consider equipping their aircraft with a FANS package that provides benefits well and above the mandate. Satcom Direct, for example, offers a stand-alone FANS datalink unit TSO’d for the Iridium network.
It is compatible with Honeywell DMU, Gulfstream PlaneView, Dassault Falcon EASy Pro Line 4–21, Collins CMU, Teledyne TeleLink, and Universal Unilink. Clay Lacy Aviation can install FANS 1/A in Gulfstream IV, IV-SP and V, and Challenger 601-3A, 601-3AER, and 601-3R aircraft under an FAA-approved STC.
Advantages of modern equipment
Upgrading to a FANS or CPDLC/Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Contract (ADS–C) package addresses getting from point A to B efficiently. But there’s another part of the equation to consider – adding equipment that can increase the likelihood of landing at the intended destination (as opposed to a diversion) when the weather is at or near landing minimums.
An enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) is a worthy cockpit option or retrofit. An EFVS combines sensor data, infrared imagery, and synthetic vision to enhance pilot situational awareness when the runway environment is not in sight by traditional “eye on target” means.
It’s worth nothing that there’s a substantial operational difference between an EFVS and a typical stock non-SVS head-up display (HUD). A HUD projects flight dynamics with lateral and vertical guidance symbols while keeping the pilot’s eyes in a perfect position to see the runway.
At minimums, there’s a brief micro-pause as pilots make the transition from instrument to visual conditions. An EFVS provides a sneak peek through the weather and darkness. As a result, pilots “see” electronically the runway environment from the start of the approach.
The instrument-to-visual changeover at minimums is smoother and more natural with an EFVS. In addition, with an EFVS there’s less doubt about acquiring the runway, as the pilot’s eyes are visually tracking it to begin with.
Factory stock and retrofit options
Dassault’s FalconEye, designed in concert with Elbit Systems and certified in 2016, uses 3 databases – navigation, terrain, and obstacle – and incorporates them with thermal imaging to produce 1280×1024 image resolution. Dedicated sensors capture infrared and near-visible images.
The system is FAA- and EASA-certified, and was incorporated into the Falcon 8X – albeit with an additional “option fee.” Best of all, FalconEye is available for retrofit on Falcon 900LX, 2000S, and 2000LXS business jets. Gulfstream certified a rudimentary version of enhanced vision in 2001, and has improved its performance with subsequent iterations. The trade name for this product is EVS, followed by a numeral.
The system uses live infrared imagery along with a Collins Aerospace HGS-6250 HUD to deliver a wide display field of view and LCD projection. More than 800 aircraft are equipped with EVS1 and 2, and the current version 3 comes as standard on production large-cabin aircraft, including the G450, G550, and G650. EVS is offered as an option on the G280.
Garmin’s GHD 2100 HUD offers a means for light to medium-size business jets to get approved for lower US ILS minimums through Cat I special authorization or Cat II authorization. Garmin plans to eventually add EFVS and external cameras to the GHD 2100.
One of the more interesting developments in the world of EFVS is Elbit’s Skylens, which attaches the visual projection to the pilot in a HUD helmet. Skylens is just one part of the Elbit Systems ClearVision EFVS package, which Elbit describes as a multispectral, superior visual solution that is augmented with real-time synthetic information, designed to expand flight safety and operational capabilities under any weather conditions.
The ClearVision system follows the guidelines of FAR 91.176, which prescribes requirements for using an EFVS to extract lower landing minimums. On the more affordable side, simply replacing factory-installed cockpit electrotechnical flight instruments with modern-looking advanced displays and attitude heading reference systems (AHRS) represents a marked improvement and a good start.
Sandel produces the SA4550 primary attitude display, which is a cost-effective way to bring more situational awareness to the cockpit. In pilot terms, it’s a round-gauge-to-glass transformation but one contained to a single instrument rather than a multi-instrument conversion.
The SN3500 primary navigation display complements the SA4550. It provides a full-color moving map presented on a high-resolution, sunlight-readable LED display.
A major goal of the NextGen airspace initiative is to achieve as much efficiency as possible within a crowded system.
Missed approaches – based on inclement weather or pilot mismanagement – have a deleterious effect on efficiency. Airspace needs will continue to dictate equipment requirements well into the future. Granted, the ability to attain preferred routing or “go lower” on an approach using HUD, EFVS, or WAAS, does not come cheaply.
If these are still out of reach, the answer lies in investing for the future with an attitude of continuous improvement over time. Modernizing the cockpit adds efficiency and value that may not be immediately obvious to an aircraft owner.
Other than citing resale value, it may be up to the pilot to advocate other reasons why it’s a good idea to allot some money for renovations up front. Nonetheless, when it comes to asking for money, sometimes it’s better to think of it in terms of a marathon and not a sprint.