More Connected Flight Management Systems

More Connected Flight Management Systems

Since their first deployment several decades ago, flight management systems have been constantly updated and they have increased capabilities. In the era of connectivity, flight management systems (FMS) are being upgraded to satisfy this ever greater need. In this feature, we provide an update on how FMS have developed in recent years, the drivers of changes in FMS technology, and what future FMS will feature.

New Features

The flight management system (FMS) portfolio of GE Aerospace is designed for accuracy, connectivity and to optimize flight paths. Continuous improvements to reduce time, fuel consumption and emissions are a constant factor in ongoing development, according to Gary Goz, director of navigation and guidance at GE Aerospace. “Our latest generation FMS, TrueCourse, has a modular design using common components across multiple aircraft platforms while having the ability to tailor modules for a specific aircraft. This creates a development environment that can deliver new and upgraded capabilities to our customers faster than our previous generations,” he says. “Another advancement is in the computing domain.

The Universal Avionics UNS-1Ew FMS. Universal Avionics image.
The Universal Avionics UNS-1Ew FMS. Universal Avionics image.

Our legacy platforms support standard keyboard-based ARINC 739 multi-function control and display units (MCDU) driven by the flight management software that runs on a flight management computer (FMC).”

Universal Avionics’ FMS platforms reflect several decades of innovation in FMS technologies and features up to its current UNS-1Ew and UNS-1Fw SBAS/WAAS FMS capabilities, affirmed Dror Yahav, chief executive officer (CEO) of Universal Avionics. “Certified on over 50 aircraft types, we specialize in flight deck upgrades, providing flexible options for aircraft types ranging from the Pilatus PC-12 to the Boeing 747. These products reflect the steady evolutions of FMSs in addressing the navigation and flight management needs of modern aircraft,” he said. “Based on our integrated 12 channel GPS capability, our SBAS-FMSs meet stringent internal monitoring requirements to provide guidance to any of the minimum descent altitude (MDA) levels for area navigation (RNAV) (GPS) approach guidance. They also illustrate the continued integration of FMS with data link enabled features such as push to load supporting a more streamlined working environment; performance, safety, and efficiency, improving the overall pilot experience in the context of FANS 1/A+, CPDLC operations.”

GE Aerospace is currently prototyping a touchscreen control display unit (TCDU) that combines the functionality of the FMC and MCDU into a single, powerful unit with a partitioned operating system, explained Goz. “This is essentially a smart display that also provides an open system architecture that can meet the needs for both civil and military aircraft. Connectivity is also one of the major new features that we have been focused on, and there are two areas of connectivity that are of importance,” he said. “The first is referred to as Connected FMS. This technology essentially creates a secure connection between the FMS and the electronic flight bag (EFB) application of choice allowing data to be exchanged between the two. This requires an update to the FMS, a configuration file that identifies the data to be exchanged, and a software development kit that is used by the EFB application provider to make the secure connection and enable the data exchange. While Connected FMS is particularly suited for the TrueCourse architecture, it has also been demonstrated with GE Aerospace’s legacy 737 FMS and it is an option for all civil and military legacy platforms. Connected FMS can be implemented either through a wired connection or through a wireless connection using an aircraft interface device, such as our SmartDMS.”

GE Aerospace is currently prototyping a new system with a touchscreen control display unit (TCDU) that combines the functionality of the FMC and MCDU into a single unit. GE Aerospace image.
GE Aerospace is currently prototyping a new system with a touchscreen control display unit (TCDU) that combines the functionality of the FMC and MCDU into a single unit. GE Aerospace image.

As part of its Connectivity Ecosystem initiatives, Universal Avionics is embedding Connected FMS capabilities in its products, pointed out Yahav. “The Connected FMS delivers pilot workflow improvements based on two-way flight plan sharing, continuous weather and flight performance data exchanges in all phases of flight supported by Universal’s FlightPartner Tablet application. The App ease of use, intuitive interface, helps minimise crew workload, fatigue, and human error working in tandem with FMS capabilities,” he said.

Another feature that is in the early stages of research and development at GE Aerospace is called Cloud FMS, affirmed Goz. “The Cloud FMS prototype has been developed on a NASA project in partnership with SmartSky Networks and Mosaic ATM using the TrueCourse FMS. This is still in the R&D stage but has the potential to bring more connectivity between the FMS and ground-based systems used by air traffic control (ATC) and airline operation centres (AOC),” he said. “The differentiator that Cloud FMS provides gives the ability for the FMS to share data with the receiver, such as modified flight plans, remaining fuel, and weight as examples. This kind of information paired with a digital twin of the FMS, can allow ATC or AOC to perform various ‘what-if’ scenarios to accommodate other traffic, fleet needs, and emergencies with much better results than can be achieved today.”

Connected FMS pilot in cockpit

Drivers of Change

According to Goz, the industry goal of reduced crew workload is a key driver as the FMS is a high workload system requiring a lot of data entry by the pilot. “Automating tasks such that it reduces this workload but keeps the pilot in the loop by allowing them to accept the data provided will be a key first step towards reducing that workload. Connected FMS is a major enabler for this capability, eliminating error-prone manual entry,” he said.

With the advent of the EFB, numerous applications now give the pilot the ability to plan ‘optimal’ routes on their handheld device, Goz pointed out. “However, there is a difference in the calculations that are performed by the EFB applications and those performed by the FMS, this results in differences in what the pilot sees when entering the data to the FMS. The same goes for the calculations that are done by the dispatcher at the AOC. There is no system today that duplicates the FMS outside of the avionics platform,” he said. “Connected FMS and Cloud FMS can help solve this issue by providing actual FMS calculations to ensure the accuracy of the results that other systems compute. These drivers require greater connectivity and/or having a digital twin that can replicate the FMS. This will enable overall greater optimization of the airspace. These types of applications can give a pilot more situational awareness and reduce their workload, especially in high workload situations and thus reduce the time to make decisions in those critical instances.”

The key drivers of changes in FMS technology include interest in increased portability and user interface evolutions, according to Yahav. “This is illustrated by Universal’s i-FMS, a portable FMS with its modular architecture for ready deployment to any ARINC 653 compliant platform and a separate ARINC661 compliant user application and human-machine interface (HMI). The i-FMS is designed as a more opened FMS supporting third-party HMI, customizing of menus and operational logic, as well as integration of proprietary functions by interfacing to the core operating systems,” he said. “Another domain is augmented reality, which couples the FMS with enhanced vision systems capabilities to deliver increased pilot situational awareness in all phases of flight and all weather conditions. As an example, this can include capabilities allowing the pilot to project waypoints and information from the FMS onto the real world, superimposed on our SkyLens head-wearable display (HWD) or a head up display powered by our ClearVision platform.”

The aerospace industry and infrastructure tend to drive and dictate the timeline for major systems like FMS, affirmed Goz. “Depending on if it is for the commercial or military market and the level of technology advancement, it can take anywhere from 8 to 10 years. In the commercial space, there is a lot of collaboration required to make this happen including OEMs, airlines, air traffic control, and regulators,” he said. “There is also the aspect of cost, not just the cost to create the technology, but also the cost of replacing antiquated systems and implementation and integration with other existing systems. Non-embedded avionics technologies such as a Cloud FMS and applications that can run on an EFB that can take advantage of connectivity such as Connected FMS can be developed and introduced at a much quicker pace.”

Future Focus Areas

Looking to the future, a first area of focus, which is considered in the context of Universal Avionics’ Connectivity Ecosystem, is the support for FMS 4D trajectory management along with digital twin technology to cope with ever escalating growth in air traffic and environmental constraint, affirmed Yahav. “Also, support of low RNP (<0.3), A-RNP, and RNP-AR operations is at the focus including enhanced FMS navigation support in particular in degraded/GPS denied navigation environments. In this context, one initiative of ours is currently focused on the DME-DME based navigation,” he said. According to Goz, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will play an increasing role in avionics and FMS. “Although current FMS implementation does not include any AI/ML, this will play an increasing role in years to come. Early first steps will include non-embedded tools such as decision aids. This will help by bringing together the information needed to make decisions quickly without the need for constant back and forth communication with a dispatcher,” he said. GE Aerospace is developing such an aid that is close to the demonstration stage, stated Goz. “This is a form of situational awareness that will likely be the place where AI will have the most impact in the shortest amount of time and that is because it can help where it is most important in this industry; safety. The more situationally aware a pilot is and the more complete the information is to make decisions from, the more likely that the action taken will conclude in the safest result. We are investing in more AI/ML technologies in the situational awareness space for this reason,” he concluded.