The adoption of Honeywell’s SmartPath precision landing system by Middle East airports is expected to gain momentum over the next few years, in response to the “phenomenal growth” of aviation in the area, according to SmartPath senior product manager Pat Reines–although the company is still waiting its first order from the region.
SmartPath is the world’s first and only certified Ground-Based Augmentation System (GBAS). It has been certified by the FAA and the German Federal Supervisory Authority for Air Navigation Services (BAF) for Category I (Cat I) approaches, and future upgrades include the ability to support Cat III approaches.
It has a number of operational benefits, including the ability to increase efficiency and capacity at airports–both of which will be needed in the Middle East over the next two decades, said Reines.
Not only is the area expanding its infrastructure and building new airports and runways, but it is also expected to increase its fleet significantly over the next 10 to 20 years. The Honeywell Business Aviation Outlook, for example, released last month, predicts a 26-percent increase in the Middle East business aircraft fleet over the next decade.
Boeing, meanwhile, has predicted an increase of more than 2,600 commercial aircraft over the next 20 years, while Airbus forecasts a slightly lower, but no less impressive, figure: 1,999 aircraft. In its Current Market Outlook, Boeing also noted that infrastructure development in the Middle East is a long-term concern, and that awareness of infrastructure challenges and the need for ATC modernization is becoming apparent.
SmartPath has the potential to address all these issues, according to Reines. “GBAS is a wonderful tool in the toolkit,” he said, adding that it is especially useful in areas that are constructing or expanding airports, such as the Middle East, where instrument approach systems (ILS) are still being used at every airport; for the cost of approximately two ground-based ILS set-ups, one SmartPath system can broadcast up to 26 unique approaches, covering every airport runway.
One of the benefits of the system is reduced taxi time. An airport with a 12,000-foot runway, for example, might create two separate glideslopes on one runway, thereby decreasing the amount of time a smaller aircraft would have to taxi to reach its destination.
Another benefit is the potential to decrease separation between aircraft. An airport could create two approaches–a shallower approach for large aircraft and a steeper approach for small aircraft. “You can potentially bring those aircraft closer together,” Reines said. “You still have that separation, but part of it is a vertical separation.”
Moreover, the installation of each new approach is “easy,” according to Honeywell: It requires a software load, as opposed to brand-new equipment. And, unlike ILS, the GBAS equipment is not restricted to a precise location at the end of a runway. It can be placed wherever the airport has space, Reines said. “GBAS is installed when you open the first runway,” Reines said. “When you add and open up new runways, you just have to load some software. You don’t have to go out and install new equipment or even move the existing GBAS equipment.”
The SmartPath system also requires fewer maintenance flights–unlike ILS, which requires periodic calibration flights every six to 12 months, depending on the area. GBAS requires one flight check, when a new approach is loaded. This not only saves costs in terms of crew and flight time, it also saves money because the airport does not have to close a runway every few months.
Bremen Airport in Germany, the first airport to fly a commercial GBAS flight back in 2011, reported a “significantly reduced maintenance effort” as a result of activating SmartPath. Currently there are 15 airports worldwide either using or having SmartPath installed, including Frankfurt Airport, which has just announced that it is to have it installed.
The benefits are such that Reines foresees a time when ILS will no longer be needed. “They might be a time when an airport might want to forego the cost of ever putting ILS in,” he said.
In order to use GBAS, an aircraft must be equipped with a Global Navigation Satellite System Landing System (GLS). By 2016, Honeywell expects more than 4,000 aircraft to be equipped with GLS. This number is expected to increase if operators, including business aviation operators, choose to retrofit their fleets.
Today, around 650 Boeing 737NG aircraft (approximately 20 percent of operators) have GLS installed and turned on, and 900 aircraft (40 percent of operators) have the option to activate it. In addition, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 747-800 both come with GLS as standard equipment.
Among Airbus A380 and A320 operators, eight airlines, including Emirates, have activated GLS. And by the end of the year, the A330 and A340 family of aircraft are expected to be GLS certified. Four airlines have also selected GLS as an option on the A350.
“We’re getting good momentum on the aircraft,” Reines said, admitting that no airport in the Middle East has yet adopted the system. Reines suspects it won’t be long before the first airport takes the plunge, however. “They’re strategically located [for worldwide travel], they’re building runways and there are lots of airplanes out there,” he told AIN. “I don’t have any numerical projections…but they’re doing a fair amount of study to fully understand the operational benefits.
“We’ve seen it work in places like Newark Airport (N.J.), Bremen and Zurich. It’s a good formula,” concluded Reines.