Avionics options key to ATR’s -600 series

 - November 30, 2007, 6:26 AM

French avionics maker Thales is in Toulouse developing an all-new flight deck for the ATR -600 series–the newly launched pair of upgrades to the now Honeywell-equipped ATR 42-500 and 72-500 regional turboprops. The new avionics suite features five 6- by 8-inch LCD displays and overall lighter hardware. However, under the supplier contract signed October 22, ATR and Thales agreed to make some advanced functions optional to keep costs in check for budget-minded customers.

According to Gil Michielin, general manager for commercial aircraft solutions, Thales design engineers are helping make the new version of the popular turboprop what the market wants it to be: robust, easy to maintain, environmentally friendly and economic. The architecture is similar to that used in the flight deck under development for the Sikorsky S-76D.

Meanwhile, designers have reduced the number of line replaceable units, lending both robustness and ease of maintenance. “The aircraft can be dispatched even with one failed display” because operators can reconfigure the remaining displays to show all the necessary information, said Thales marketing v-p Michel Orman.

Another example of integration appears in the flight management system (FMS). The interface, with its small display and keyboard, looks typical. However, the FMS no longer uses its own computer, but rather those of the main flight displays.

Thales borrowed this architecture from its integrated modular avionics concept used on the A380, helping to keep acquisition cost low, Orman said.

Michielin pointed out that the new flight deck will also contribute to the aircraft’s environmental performance. “New functions in the FMS optimize the flight path to reduce fuel burn; the RNP 0.3 [RNP stands for required navigation performance, which measures navigation precision] certification allows more direct trajectories,” he said. The smaller hardware not only is lighter, it needs less electrical power.

User-selected Options

To reduce the cost of the avionics system, Thales has made a number of functions available only as options. For example, the new cockpit has provision for datalink communications between the crew and ATC. Thales had promoted that feature in its Top Deck concept in 2004.

Similarly, the standard Thales autopilot is single channel, but it allows for a dual-channel autopilot should a customer want RNP 0.1, for example. Category 3A for all-weather capability is optional.

Other options include ADS-B with traffic information display and vertical situation display with terrain profile. One more optional provision–a trackball interface–would appear to be more convenient, at face value, for the FMS.  “The choice for a conventional alphabet keyboard was ATR’s,” said Orman.

WAAS/EGNOS capability for better accuracy in satellite navigation does come standard. “This is especially useful to regional aviation, as the airports do not all have conforming instrument landing systems–if any,” Orman noted.

Thales will deliver the first ground-test flight deck in December next year. ATR expects to deliver the first -600 series aircraft in the second half of 2010.