Singapore Air Show

Honeywell helps China to unblock its ATM bottleneck

 - February 13, 2012, 11:00 AM

Asia’s burgeoning air-transport industry is at a turning point facing historic levels of opportunity, while also having to resolve infrastructure issues that could hold it back. This is where Honeywell comes in, according to Briand Greer, the avionics and powerplant group’s new president for aerospace in the Asia Pacific region. Greer is based in Shanghai, having started in mid-2011 as the company’s “vice president for China growth,” with a remit to focus on initiatives with Chinese airframer Avic and its parent group Comac.

That Honeywell (Booth Q23) saw fit to arrange a lengthy crossover with its previous regional president was “unprecedented, but indicative of how we view the Asia Pacific and China,” said Greer, who was widely traveled with many contacts with airlines in the region. “I knew some of the airlines fairly well but having been here a few months I found that there is a lot more to know–and I feel fortunate to be here at this time in history–it’s all happening very quickly in China.”

So what’s his impression so far? “Airlines here are clearly very profitable and they probably represent around 35 percent of all global airline profits,” he said. “Airfares are relatively high and yet every aircraft you get on is full. And when GDP goes down–say from nine to eight percent–that gets a lot of attention.”

“There is a huge push for more aircraft and routes, but a big issue is the creaking ATC infrastructure,” Greer continued. “We’re helping with that both as a consultant and in development [work].”

China wants to achieve an air traffic management step-change along the lines of the U.S. NextGen or Europe’s Sesar systems as soon as possible. However, in Greer’s view, the country is “hamstrung with [legacy] systems and the agencies it has in place–a bit like the U.S., but they’re better at making decisions here; once it’s made, it’s made!”

The opportunity is that the air traffic control system can be much better, as the old systems are at maximum capacity. But, unlike the U.S. and Europe, in China the envisioned new ATM network is “not organized under a ‘heading’ yet,” explained Greer. However, the Chinese are working with other Asian nations on the Single Asian Sky project, which is “moving forward quite rapidly,” he said.

As for Honeywell, it took a big step forward in April 2011 when it signed a memorandum of understanding “to jointly set up an ATM lab [in Beijing] to look at the technology to combine ground and air systems–and now we’re in the process of setting up that lab.”

Historically, Honeywell’s central expertise in aviation has been its aircraft systems business. “That’s really where our core strength is–TCAS, EGPWS, new radar, new flight management systems–and all this will be critical to the new ATM capabilities,” he said.

In the Asia Pacific region and China, in particular, airline fleets are very modern and Honeywell has benefited from the fact that operators there have been early-adopters of systems such as SmartLanding and SmartRunway. Because the ATM network in China is straining to cope with traffic growth, incremental improvements are especially worthwhile, according to Greer. “One in every two or three flights has some kind of ATC delay–although typically less than an hour–but it’s extremely limiting,” he added. “This is why we’re talking to them about Honeywell’s SmartPath [system].”

Honeywell moved its regional headquarters from Singapore to China back in 2004 and now employs 11,000 people in the People’s Republic, around 750 of theme on the aerospace side. It has joint ventures in place for programs such as Comac’s new C919 airliner program, and has five manufacturing centers in the country.

“Singapore still is obviously a big for us–and we’re very bullish on other countries around the region: the Philippines, for example,” said Greer. In Singapore, Honeywell has been involved in upgrading the country’s C-130 military transport fleet. It also has a big stake in the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 jet trainer selected by Singapore’s air force, with $4.5 million in content on each aircraft from the F124 engines it provides.