Farnborough Air Show

ACSS equipping airliners for Euro technology demo

 - July 19, 2010, 1:26 AM

Aviation Communications & Surveillance Systems (ACSS), a U.S.-based maker of TCAS and ADS-B avionics, has started equipping dozens of airliners in support of a European-sponsored technology demonstration program aimed at saving fuel on transatlantic flights.

Part of Eurocontrol’s Cascade initiative, ACSS is installing automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast avionics aboard airliners for flight trials planned to start early next year. Three airlines have been picked for the program, the first publicly announced carrier being US Airways, which is equipping 20 Airbus A330s with ACSS ADS-B hardware that features special software allowing pilots flying over the North Atlantic to see other traffic on displays in the cockpit. The idea is to give flight crews a clear view of nearby traffic that in turn will allow them to reach the most fuel-efficient flight levels as quickly as possible.

“Without ADS-B, pilots often have to make multiple calls to ATC to request a flight-level change,” explained ACSS president Kris Ganase. “The in-trail procedures these flights are intended to demonstrate will enhance situational awareness by allowing the pilots to see everybody else so they know the ideal time to contact the controller” and ask for a climb.  

In addition to US Airways, another major U.S. airline and a European airline will participate in the flight trials. The start of the program was delayed by this spring’s volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

ACSS last year participated in an Airbus-led program called Cristal that carried out the first in-flight demonstration of new procedures to save fuel and reduce emissions during cruise flights on oceanic routes. The company is also on an ITT team awarded a major contract from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to study ADS-B technologies as part of the agency’s NextGen ATC overhaul.

Safe Route
ACSS is perhaps best known for development of its SafeRoute technology, which UPS is using to speed arrivals at its hub in Louisville, Kentucky. The cargo airline slowed plans to equip its fleet with the SafeRoute technology when the recession hit.

Software applications based on ADS-B technology remain ACSS’s biggest market differentiator, but the company’s bread-and-butter business is sales of its traffic alert and collision avoidance (TCAS) equipment. ACSS TCAS units are flying on thousands of aircraft worldwide. The company’s latest T3CAS product has been selected as standard equipment on all narrowbody Airbus airliners.

Underscoring the importance of that part of its business, Ganase said recent technology demonstration programs have provided a boost for TCAS sales as well. “US Airways wasn’t even a TCAS customer before we started the [Cascade] trials,” he said. “Now they are equipping their entire fleet” with ACSS products.

ACSS stands to benefit greatly from the move toward ADS-B technology. The company noted that the FAA recently certified its XS-950 air transport datalink mode-S transponder for ADS-B Out functionality, which will be required for all aircraft flying in U.S. airspace by 2020. US Airways and UPS plan to install the equipment in a mix of Airbus and Boeing airliners.

ACSS also recently became the first maker of TCAS devices to obtain approval for Change 7.1 software, a safety enhancement Eurocontrol developed in the aftermath of the 2002 midair collision of a Russian airliner with a DHL cargo plane over Germany. Change 7.1 provides two important safety improvements. The first is “reversal logic,” which allows the TCAS to amend a traffic resolution advisory if it sees a threat aircraft taking the same corrective action–for example, both aircraft climbing to avoid a collision. The software also replaces the “adjust vertical speed” verbal command with a “level-off” resolution advisory.

Phoenix, Arizona-based ACSS is 70 percent owned by L-3 Communications in the U.S. and 30-percent by Thales in France.