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Honeywell steps boldly into aviation’s future

Launch customers noted in the October 5 announcement include the forthcoming Lilium Jet, one of scores of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft being designed to enter service flown by human pilots, though that may change if and when the FAA and other national regulators approve the first truly autonomous aircraft. Another contender in that crowded field, Vertical Aerospace, is building the VA–X4 to fly a pilot and up to four passengers distances beyond 100 miles at 202 mph, and will also be fitted with Honeywell Anthem avionics.

Honeywell’s new system uses some technologies and capabilities (such as synthetic vision) developed for the firm’s previous flight decks used in business jets and turboprops, though the hardware and software architecture is very different. Rack-mounted instruments and control modules designed to handle specific functions independently are replaced with networked systems that run on much lighter components; the traditional flight management system and control display unit, along with every other instrument on the flight deck, have been replaced by touch screens with gesture control. Voice controls and a smartphone-like user interface will make the experience more intuitive for pilots, who will be able to customize the layout of the displays to their preferences, whether in the aircraft or at the hotel preparing for the next flight in their always-on aircraft.

This cloud-connected approach to aircraft operation allows pilots, maintenance personnel, dispatchers, and anyone else involved in flight operations to access a panoply of pertinent data in real time via two-way connection with every Anthem-equipped aircraft in their fleet from virtually anywhere.

“Honeywell is not just launching a new flight deck today—we are changing the way pilots operate aircraft and creating a more intuitive experience than ever,” said Honeywell Aerospace CEO Mike Madsen, in the announcement. “In the same way we moved from flip phones to smartphones, Honeywell Anthem will transform the pilot experience with customizable controls operated quickly and easily with a few swipes of the finger.”

Honeywell Aerospace is leveraging an operating system made for a wide range of industrial applications, Honeywell Forge. Company spokesman Adam Kress, in an email exchange responding to questions about cybersecurity that arise with the unprecedented step of connecting on-board aircraft control systems to the internet, wrote that Forge is designed with layers of security built in, both on board the aircraft and off board:

“All ancillary applications will be served from [the] Forge network to ensure the application, data, originator are all known and safe before passing to the aircraft,” Kress wrote. “This is a common practice in IOT to have applications, originator, data all secured before being served to the device to ensure integrity and security.” (“IOT” refers to “internet of things,” a concept in which all kinds of devices, from refrigerators and home heating systems to vehicles, phones, and a host of other devices, are connected to a global network.)

Kress wrote that Anthem and Forge are designed to facilitate remote aircraft access without compromising aircraft safety:

“Segregation and separation are key to safety. The Honeywell Forge cloud has several layers of protection off the aircraft to ensure origin, data, application and purpose are all secured prior to use on the aircraft. Then, the Anthem platform, via the [Integrated Network Server Unit] Hardware, ensures segregation and separation on the aircraft. This means that only traffic approved by the network that has the appropriate certificates is ever passed to the avionics and critical systems are not ever physically or wirelessly connected in a way that compromises safety or security.”

The benefits of cloud-connected avionics will enable powerful new features and efficiencies that reduce pilot workload as well as the cost of operating aircraft. Honeywell expects Anthem to reduce preflight preparation time for pilots by up to 45 minutes per flight.

“Honeywell Anthem seamlessly integrates with popular electronic flight bag planning applications to let pilots create, store and retrieve flight plans from anywhere. After pilots load the flight plan remotely, it will be ready and waiting when they arrive at the aircraft,” the press release states. “This remote flight plan loading is an industry first, enabled by the connectivity built into Honeywell Anthem.”

Beyond the flight deck, dispatchers, maintenance staff, and others supporting fleets of various sizes from individual aircraft up to airline scale will gain access to on-board systems whenever the aircraft is able to connect to the internet, by whatever means. Honeywell expects operators to realize a 10- to 15-percent reduction in the labor cost associated with managing fleets.

“Everyone who touches a flight is able to get information that matters to them when they need it,” said Vipul Gupta, vice president and general manager of avionics at Honeywell Aerospace, in the news release. “The aircraft becomes accessible via the cloud computing infrastructure, and things like maintenance data, flight plans and overall aircraft status are stored automatically by the avionics or via ground-based applications used by support personnel. This means data is accessible by any authorized user from anywhere.”

Balanced against those powerful incentives is growing awareness of vulnerabilities, and examples of secure networks proving vulnerable—sometimes as a result of programming, sometimes as a result of operator error. Bloomberg reported in June that the Colonial Pipeline Co. hack that shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the country and disrupted that supply chain resulted from a single compromised password. In September, Apple identified and patched a previously unknown iOS vulnerability that enabled unauthorized access to iPhones via the iMessage app, with no user intervention (such as clicking on a link to malicious software) required.

Cybersecurity has long been on the air transport industry’s radar, a “top priority” for aviation, including an airline industry that “is an attractive target for cyber threat actors with a multitude of motivations, ranging from stealing value in data or money to causing disruptions and harm,” the International Air Transport Association noted in its February online release of aviation cybersecurity guidance for organizations and aircraft operators.

While Honeywell designed Anthem to carefully control access, it is opening the door to third-party app developers who can provide additional benefits to users, such as live weather camera feeds from the destination airport, or local weather radar data. Pilots will be able to customize their displays to include that information, and Honeywell created a video to illustrate this and other benefits of cloud-connected aircraft. Additional videos and descriptions posted online with the October 5 unveiling provide further details about the user interface, customization options, and a “Landing Assist” feature that provides path guidance to an airport “before switching to pilot control 200 feet from centerline.”

Unveiled just ahead of the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Honeywell was scheduling Anthem demonstrations in a conference room at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

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