ACSS now embroiled in Honeywell TAWS lawsuit

 - May 5, 2008, 6:32 AM

Honeywell last month filed a second patent infringement law-
suit, this time against Phoenix-based Aviation Communications & Surveillance Systems (ACSS), alleging that the company’s forthcoming terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) uses technology protected under patents filed by Honeywell in 1996 with the introduction of the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS).

With this latest legal action, ACSS becomes the fourth company targeted by Honeywell for alleged EGPWS patent violations. The first three were TAWS makers Goodrich, Universal Avionics and Sandel in May this year. ACSS, maker of
the popular TCAS 2000 product originally developed by Honeywell, is now developing an integrated system called T2CAS that would combine TCAS with TAWS. Certification of the product, which was originally announced at the Paris Air Show in June last year, is slated for the end of this year.

ACSS is a joint-venture company owned 70 percent by L-3 Communications of New York and 30 percent by Thales of Paris. Its brief roots can be traced back to Honeywell, which was forced by the Justice Department to divest the TCAS 2000 product line after AlliedSignal bought Honeywell in December 1999 and took the latter’s name. L-3 Communications purchased the TCAS line, and then agreed to form ACSS with Thales, a company then clamoring for a traffic-avoidance system to sell to the air-transport market.

The T2CAS product, according to ACSS spokespeople, would integrate TCAS 2000 with the ground collision avoidance module (GCAM) from Thales, originally developed by Dassault Electronique to serve as the terrain-following system in the Mirage fighter. With ACSS, L-3 is leading the marketing efforts to business aviation, regional airlines and military customers, while Thales sells T2CAS to major airlines, as well as Boeing and Airbus. At the Farnborough Air Show in July, ACSS announced that FedEx had selected the integrated product for its fleet of Fokker F27s, and that UK airline Virgin Express will install T2CAS in its Boeing 737 fleet.

ACSS claims its developmental product is the only TAWS capable of providing avoidance alerts based on actual aircraft performance data rather than standard climb rates and an assumption that all critical functions are performing properly. For example, if one engine on an aircraft goes out while it is approaching a mountain, T2CAS factors in the decreased performance while alerting pilots of necessary avoidance maneuvers, the company said. Also, if an aircraft begins to turn toward a mountain and the system calculates impact with terrain would occur if the turn continued, a “Don’t Turn!” warning is given.

In its lawsuit Honeywell is asking that competitors be permanently banned from selling their TAWS products, but legal experts agree the case would likely drag on for many years without resolution. The FAA is requiring most turbine-powered airplanes carry TAWS starting in March 2005.

The first iteration of the EGPWS family marketed by Honeywell was introduced in 1996 as the enhanced successor to AlliedSignal’s GPWS, a terrain-warning system credited with slashing the airline CFIT accident rate in the 1970s and 1980s. EGPWS added a terrain database and GPS position to give pilots added protection not available with the original version.

The EGPWS concept is widely recognized as having been invented by AlliedSignal engineers in Redmond, Wash. In particular GPWS and EGPWS were made possible by the vision of Don Bateman, a well-known flight systems engineer who has spent much of his 40-plus-year career with AlliedSignal–and now continues at Honeywell. Bateman in 1997 was awarded the Flight Safety Foundation’s Distinguished Service Award for his work on EGPWS, and was recognized in the January 2000 issue of AIN as one of aviation’s top newsmakers of the last century.