Collins adds e-charts to mix of Pro Line 21 add-on capabilities

 - March 19, 2008, 7:02 AM

During last month’s NBAA Convention, Rockwell Collins announced certification of the company’s integrated flight information system (IFIS), an add-on to the baseline Pro Line 21 avionics platform that brings electronic charts, graphic weather and enhanced map overlays to cockpit multifunction displays.

Not only are the Jeppesen charts and other IFIS features shown at NBAA crisper and clearer than those of handheld electronic flight bag (EFB) computers, they can also be integrated with the airplane’s FMS. This lets the pilots enter their flight plan information and then pull up appropriate charts without having to cull through lists of electronic approach plates or dig through a database searching for the proper procedures.

The FAA awarded certification to Collins in September for IFIS in the Challenger 601, the first of several models that will receive the hardware and software upgrade. As described, IFIS uses an onboard 2-MCU file server unit with Ethernet capability to store Jeppesen charts and other data. By installing a pair of file server units (with the second acting as a backup to the first) flight departments can go entirely paperless, choosing to do away with the cumbersome hard-copy charts that come in the mail. Collins is working with FAA officials to obtain the first paperless approval using IFIS, with the end of the year as its target.

A small joystick cursor control below the FMS is used to scroll through menus on the MFD and pan around approach plates. Approach and taxi charts show a moving airplane symbol, helpful for situational awareness, especially on the ground at large, unfamiliar airports. A smooth-panning feature has been added to IFIS since the last time Collins showed the concept, and this has boosted the electronic charts’ user friendliness.

In addition to charts, IFIS is also an airborne weather data server. It uplinks information through Universal Weather & Aviation for display in the cockpit and can also be used to send and receive text e-mail. Six weather products, selectable by region, are available to the crew, including Nexrad weather maps, weather depiction charts, winds/temperatures and areas of turbulence and icing.

Weather data can be received through VHF Mode 2 datalink using the Collins VHF 4000 data radio. Requests for weather updates, which take about 20 seconds to upload, are made through the FMS. In the CJ3 Collins is exploring additional options through weather provider WSI and using the XM satellite radio link, which now transmits weather data.

A spokesman for Collins said the avionics maker expects to bring IFIS to Continuum packages installed in the Falcon 20 and Falcon 50 early next year. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa company also announced that the concept will be part of the Cessna Citation CJ3’s standard avionics system and carried as an option in the Gulfstream 150. Other airplanes certified to fly with Continuum (and therefore candidates for IFIS in the future) are the Challenger 600, Citation III, Hawker 700 and 800 and Gulfstream II/IIB/III. Price for a complete IFIS with charts and weather ranges from about $100,000 to $150,000, installed.

So far Collins has installed about 30 Continuum systems and has 10 on back order. While not a sales disappointment, Collins found that Continuum stretched the budgets of many operators and so has decided to launch a lower priced integrated display package that gives an operator glass displays, but not the millions of dollars worth of additional advanced avionics behind the scenes.