Ask The Experts: Armstrong Aerospace

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At the last APEX conference the IFExpress reporters shared table at one of the rest locations on the busy floor and quite by accident, struck up a conversation with some folks who do airplane certification for airlines. Naturally, the subject of the forthcoming (now announced) FAA regulation to relax on the use of PEDs on commercial flights was the discussion subject. We were blown away about what we didn’t know about the process and the Hot Topic that follows is the result of that meeting. We bet you will learn something.

Q. What will the new FAA PED use approval action mean for travelers?

A. The majority of Air travelers will soon be able to use their personal electronic devices from gate to gate. The FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of PEDs (portable electronic devices) during all phases of a flight, subject to a few constraints and/or additional testing, and have provided airlines with guidance for implementation. Ultimately, it’s up to the airline to use the FAA guidance to allow PED usage from gate to gate. EASA will almost certainly be next in allowing PED use, and we anticipate they will follow the same approach as the FAA.

Q. What will this mean for airlines that seek to provide longer PED services?

A. Under the new FAA guidance, passengers will be able to use their PEDs in all phases of flight. All PEDS must remain in “airplane mode,” which prevents transmissions from those devices. In some flight conditions, airlines may still require passengers to turn off their PEDs, but over time, these situations should prove to be limited and Armstrong Aerospace is already working with operators to eliminate these scenarios.

Q. Why is Armstrong Aerospace a leader in this business?

A. Armstrong turns today’s “reactive” PED compatibility compliance method into a proactive one by addressing aircraft equipment PED compatibility, Illustrated Parts Catalog (IPC) validity and addressing emerging PED technologies. We use multiple analytic and test techniques to substantiate compatibility, with cost-effective certification management. Our services accelerate the time-to-market deployment of wireless passenger systems. We have tested more than 1,500 part numbers, and we leverage our experience to limit the testing duration required to certify an airline’s fleet. Once a plane or fleet is certified, Armstrong has multiple analytic tools to support timely and cost-effective continued airworthiness of PED compatibility… We are involved!

Q. Our readers might not know the airplane certification processes involved; can you roughly outline the procedure?

A. Once the operator determines the aircraft that require testing, we conduct a detailed review of the aircraft’s equipment and notify the FAA of the impending testing. Together with the operator, a test plan is formulated to achieve the most cost-effective and timely evaluation of the fleet. The Armstrong test team then conducts testing onboard the various aircraft under FAA witnesses. Once completed, the operator integrates an FAA-approved modification to their maintenance program.

Q. Are some aircraft certified today? Are the regulations airline or model specific?

A. Some Boeing 787 aircraft are PED tolerant off the line from Boeing manufacturing facilities. This means they are eligible for gate-to-gate certification as long as the operator has maintained the aircraft as directed by Boeing. Additionally, Delta has their aircraft certified without restrictions and JetBlue, American Airlines and United Airlines have their aircraft certified with a few minor restrictions.

Q. What steps would an airline need to go through to get an older aircraft model PED certified?

A. The new guidance states that a combination of analyses and testing can be used to establish gate- to-gate PED certification. Older aircraft may need full wireless testing to accomplish this capability, but these aircraft will most likely be few in number. Either way, this sort of testing is one of our core capabilities, and it is possible for us to perform this testing.

Q. If one airline has an aircraft model number certified, does this carry over to all of the same model aircraft no matter who the operator is or does each airline need to certify their own aircraft?

A. The gate-to-gate PED certification is operator-specific, not aircraft type specific. Each approval is managed directly with airline and FAA oversight. Airlines may also take credit for mutual testing accomplished under FAA certified retrofit projects.

Q. How does an airline quickly deploy a wireless/pico cell system on thousands of aircraft?

A. There are three pacing items that limit the deployment of wireless technologies on large numbers of aircraft. They are the wireless certification strategy, designing and certifying for multiple installation configurations, and the pace of installation. It is critical to take a holistic approach towards solving the first two items. Doing so minimizes the impact on regulatory authorities that frequently have the long lead-time actions. Typical installation schedules for these products may take multiple years in installing a product across a fleet. To combat this, the design must be developed with installation in mind. A design manufactured with rapid installation in mind, installed by a specially trained rapid installation team, minimizes revenue loss to operators. A planned multi-year roll-out can be reduced to several months under this approach. Armstrong AeroMod can install most types of Wi-Fi and connectivity systems within 24 hours.

Q. How do will you help the industry accomplish the latest FAA guidance?

A. Armstrong is rolling out a new TPED certification management product, called the PED Management Program; with a goal to provide airlines with a single certification product that addresses passenger TPED use for any installed wireless or pico cell system through all phases of flight.

Q. Why is Armstrong Aerospace the leader in this field?

A. There is more than one answer to this one:

  • Our company has a strong understanding of the market and industry impact of this new guidance
  • We specialize in concept-to-completion problem solving, with an emphasis on accelerating the time-to-market for all technologies
  • Our unique blend of technical and business expertise with a problem solving approach that considers cost, schedule, compliance and technical requirements provides a holistic solution for customers and operators
  • This may sound like a sales pitch but we take pride in creative/innovative problem solving and thinking outside the box, does not shy away from industry, regulatory or compliance challenges
  • Our expertise spans across analysis, design, testing, certification, production, and installation domains. By being able to operate in these spaces and perform the subtasks contained within them, we minimize program risks (schedule, cost, certification, technical risks)
  •  Armstrong designs with the installation in mind. Rapid installations are the name of the game – we major in it. What good is an installation design that requires a plane to be grounded for 10 days?

If you need an answer to your certification questions send a note to Kevin Weppner – “This is a great time to be involved in RF certification in the airline industry.  Our extensive background in testing and certification perfectly prepared us for the FAA’s new position on PED use.  We are already certifying fleets for gate-to-gate use, including front door and back door testing.  Call us today at 630-285-0200, or email us at info@armstrongaerospace.com and we will let you know how soon we can get your fleet certified – time is of the essence, and we have our teams working NOW to get you this important capability!”

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