Collins Aerospace is turning heavily to defense as it attempts to offset the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on commercial aviation, a primary industry for the Iowa-based aerospace supplier. About 75 percent of Collins's business involves commercial aviation, which has been hammered by the pandemic both domestically and internationally from travel restrictions, closed borders, and a steep drop in passenger demand.
“The impact has been significant,” said Collins president Steve Timm. “Today, our key focus is on recovery and maximizing the opportunities on the defense side of our business.” That effort includes the recent announcement that the U.S. Air Force is joining the U.S. Navy’s tactical combat training system Increment II (TCTS Inc. II) program to field the next-generation air combat training provision from Collins. It also includes a contract awarded to Collins for the development of an enhanced visual acuity (EVA) system for Navy and Marine Corps helicopter and tiltrotor pilots.
Other opportunities in defense include aircraft modernization and connected battlespace programs, as well as ISR and training solutions and new aircraft programs such as the T-X trainer and Army Future Vertical Lift. “Our defense portfolio continues to perform well and includes several of our company’s largest business opportunities,” Timm said.
Collins also is applying products developed on the civil aircraft side to military use such as its Pro Line Fusion avionics. Originally developed for business aircraft, Pro Line Fusion now appears on a number of military aircraft, as do some of its airline and business jet cabin products, Timm added.
“Continuing to expand the portfolio of applied commercial technologies for defense applications is especially important in light of the challenges we face on the commercial side of our business,” he explained.
At the same time, Collins continues to explore ways to accelerate recovery in commercial aviation, which still accounts for a big part of the company's business. To that end, Collins has formed a 40-person internal Redefining Air Travel Task Force to explore what commercial aviation can do collaboratively to hasten some sort of return to normalcy in the face of the pandemic, said v-p and general manager of information management services LeAnn Ridgeway, who leads the task force.
“There are things with the pandemic that we can’t control; we certainly understand and appreciate that destinations have to open up and people have to feel a certain level of security to even want to get on an airplane,” she said. “But there are things we can control, which will improve the confidence and have more people getting back on airplanes faster.”
With task force members working with customers from airlines, airports, OEMs, and government agencies and regulators, the committee aims to help the industry coalesce around a set of standards and promote its efforts with a single voice. “And then we’ve got to communicate that out there to the general public,” she said. “Because right now…if you were the average flyer you’d be confused about ‘what can I expect when I go to an airport now? What can I expect between the different airlines?’”
Over the past few weeks, she said, the task force has made inroads toward meeting its communication goals, Ridgeway said. The resulting unified messaging, she hopes, will raise public awareness of measures already in place such as aircraft disinfecting, anti-viral coatings, HEPA filtration of cabins, and technologies such as touchless ticketing kiosks and biometric screening meant to further reduce “touchpoints” for travelers.
“I think the commonality and coming together is what’s going to be the most crucial part of it in getting that message out,” Ridgeway said.