Tag Archives: Aviation

Dream Start For Boeings 787 First Flight

It was a wonderful experience watching the maiden flight of Boeings 787 Dreamliner as it was broadcast live via Boeing’s webcast.

Seeing the vast Everett buildings brought back memories of my visit there in April 2008. Particularly the enormous size of the buildings where the aircraft are constructed.

B787 Production Everett April 2008

During my time in Seattle I had the opportunity to view the B787 flight simulator, not then in operation, but did give an impressive overview of the flight deck, which I can only described as ‘a visit to the command centre of the USS Enterprise’. Seeing the head-up display (HUD) in a commercial aircraft was a first for me and I was also impressed by the large electronic flight bag (EFB) display.

However now the Dreamliners first flight is over, both Boeing and its Airline customers can focus on the successful operation of the aircraft. Unlike any other aircraft the 787 is unique in its operation. For year’s airlines have operated aircraft safely and securely with tried and tested processes that are applied to new aircraft types as and when they have arrived. Not so for the 787, this aircraft (Also the Airbus A380) is heavily dependant on the digital transfer of information to and from the aircraft.

Ok, you might say ‘what’s the big deal in this day and age, we move data around all the time!!’. Well yes we do but that’s mainly with ground-based nodes on a wide area network. When you have a network of users (350+) on an IT network node that is sometimes disconnected and moves around the world at 35,000 feet you have a different proposition.

For the ground based IT experts this introduces a new set of challenges and for the established aircraft technicians in engineering this introduces challenges of a different kind. Both groups of experts will come from different angles when dealing with connectivity and security, as they will focus on how to secure their independent issues. However they must both look to the horizon to see potential looming regulation that will challenge the most experienced experts to get it right in an operational environment. Getting it wrong may impact the air worthiness of the operation.

Boeings accomplishment of the Dreamliners first flight has to be applauded, I’m sure all those employees seen on the webcast were rightfully proud of their achievements.

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New Generation Aircraft Challenges

Over the last decade commercial aviation has been engaged in a major transition towards a ‘digital aircraft’. With the next generation of aircraft (A380, A350 & B787), the industry is moving towards the ‘connected aircraft’ or ‘eEnabled aircraft’ This evolution is propelled by the need for increased efficiency and interoperability at a reduced overall operational cost.

In the past, specialized avionic systems provided predictable interactions with the aircraft, the introduction of commercially available ‘off-the-shelf’ hardware and software components has expanded the scope for aircraft interactivity. To maintain the predictability and security of the aircraft, the new systems have safeguards built in, to interoperate without unintended consequences. The systems design and certification onboard the aircraft are handled by the airframe and equipment manufacturers.

However this new generation of eEnabled aircraft has extensive requirements for external interaction. Here lies the greatest challenges. Whether it is aircraft systems transferring data to a ground station, or a passenger in the aircraft accessing a service using the Internet, great care has to be taken to ensure that only legitimate communication or ‘information transfer’ is occurring.

Check this link out for an interesting debate by Bruce Schneier in this area.

Airlines must have the ability to identify individual components, to a high level of assurance, this is important for the security of the aircraft and its operating environment. This is also true for the identities of the people that interact within the aircraft environment, such as pilots, cabin crew, mechanics, and other airline employees. Additionally, it is important to verify the integrity and the origin of data (including software) loaded onto the aircraft.

Architectural design challenges faced by airlines, are to provide a secure, reliable, flexible and adaptable ground based IT environment that will grow with the business and its operational requirements.

As eEnabled aircraft are added to airline fleets verifying the integrity and origin of data flows will become an ever-increasing challenge for airlines. A particular problem for airlines that operate both Airbus and Boeing ‘connected aircraft’, would be, how to create common processes, workflows and data feeds for the different fleets, that will require updating in many different worldwide locations and communication channels.

This new aircraft evolution will bring lots of challenges and opportunities for airlines but providing the right ‘Network Architecture’ foundation will be key to supporting the airline operation of the next generation aircraft.

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