Blazing another trail, JetBlue opts for two-HUD installations

 - July 24, 2007, 9:44 AM

Ask any copilot of a HUD-equipped airplane what a low-visibility approach looks like, and the answer will be the same–no different from any other airplane. But that’s not because the HUD doesn’t help. It’s because traditionally HUDs have been installed only on the captain’s side, and their optics require the user to be sitting in front of the screen. Looking sideways at the display doesn’t work, with the result that however high-tech the airplane, the copilot’s view ahead is really no different from what it would be in a DC-3.

But now copilots have a champion in JetBlue, which has specified HUDs for both the captain and the copilot of the new Embraer 190 regional jet. Launch customer for the Brazilian airliner, the upstart airline has ordered 100 copies (with deliveries beginning later next year) and holds options on 100 more. Currently, JetBlue operates 60 non-HUD-equipped Airbus A320s, with a further 123 on order and options on an additional 50. In terms of numbers of aircraft ordered, JetBlue is Airbus’s fourth largest customer, and it may well be the largest customer for the Embraer 190.

JetBlue Embraer 190 program vice president Usto Schulz said “One of the primary benefits of the new HUD system will be that our Embraer 190 flight crews will now be able to fly every approach the same way, in good weather and in bad, from the left seat or the right seat, to ILS-equipped runways or on nonprecision approaches. This will reduce our flight-crew training costs and increase the margins of safety in our operation.”

For its new airplanes, JetBlue has not only opted for dual HUDs, but has gone one step further and ordered next-generation systems from Rockwell Collins’ Flight Dynamics division. Called Head-up Guidance Systems (HGS), these new units incorporate advanced electronics and replace the traditional CRT projector with LCD technology for crisper presentations, better performance in high ambient light conditions and extended MTBFs (AIN, November 2003, page 102).

Most HUD manufacturers are developing LCD-based HUDs, but Flight Dynamics can claim that its HGS units on board JetBlue’s Embraer 190s next year will be the world’s first installations of the technology. Flight Dynamics is also aiming for Cat III certification by mid-2006. Alitalia, which has ordered 12 Embraer 190s, has specified Flight Dynamics systems, but just on the captain’s side. Flight Dynamics units are also standard options on the smaller Embraer 170.

Despite the fact that its origins go back to the gyro gunsights of World War II, the HUD concept has taken a long time to gain acceptance in the civil marketplace, and only in the last few years have there been significant sales in the airline and high-end corporate communities. One stumbling block has been the equipment’s cost–an Embraer spokesman said that the list price for the dual Flight Dynamics HGS installation in the Embraer 190 was $600,000, including the acquisition cost of the equipment and its extensive integration with the onboard avionics.

But the benefits are now being recognized by many operators as greater than the costs– Southwest Airlines’ entire fleet of 400+ Boeing 737s is equipped with HGSs, and FedEx announced late last year that it would equip its entire widebody fleet with Honeywell/ Kollsman HUDs, starting in 2007 or 2008 (AIN, July, page 86). These will also embody LCD technology, but, as at Southwest, they will be captain-side installations only, except in the company’s Airbus A380 mega-freighters, which will have dual installations when delivered in 2008.

The next step for the HUD/HGS industry is the integration of infrared enhanced vision systems (EVS) into the presentation. At the European Regions Airline Association Conference in November, association director general Mike Ambrose said, “EVS technology potentially offers the next major breakthrough in improving air safety. It’s like giving the pilot his eyes back.” Here, the corporate aviation community has been the pioneer, with Gulfstream and Bombardier offering EVS options, from Kollsman and CMC Electronics, respectively, for the HUD systems in their top-of-the-line airplanes. The FedEx HUDs will also incorporate Kollsman EVS systems. Flight Dynamics’ parent, Rockwell Collins, had earlier stated its intention to offer EVS with the HGS as part of its total integrated flight-deck avionics suite, and at press time was close to announcing its chosen supplier.