UPS Launches A300 Cockpit Modernization Program

 - May 15, 2017, 12:13 PM
UPS flies 52 Airbus A300-600s equipped with a cockpit the carrier characterized as "lacking" even when it bought the airplanes in 2000. (Photo: Airbus)

United Parcel Service, Airbus and Honeywell have signed a deal to collaborate on a cockpit upgrade for UPS Airline’s 52 A300-600s meant to extend the life of the fleet for at least another 18 years, the partners announced Monday. The program involves installation of a new flight management system, a new Honeywell RVR 4000 weather radar system, new LCD displays for both pilots, a new integrated standby instrument system (ISIS), a new aircraft communication and addressing reporting system (ACARS), a central maintenance system and replacement of the current enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) with an integrated system. Rather than using individual components for aircraft functions such as FMS, ACARS and CMS, the new integrated avionics system uses processor cards installed in a cabinet.

The companies, which declined to place a dollar value on the contract or a cost estimate, expect to complete the modifications in August 2022. Plans call for the project to start in 2019, when the first airplane arrives at Airbus in Toulouse for modification and flight testing. Airbus expects to gain certification for the project in 2020.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the retrofit lies with the ability of the new FMS to support a worldwide database and Future Air Navigation System (FANS). According to UPS Airlines avionics and systems engineering division manager Kevin O’Hara, the airplanes’ current FMS doesn’t hold enough storage capacity to address even domestic database requirements. “This results in time-consuming uploads to make changes to the database on board often times prior to flight,” explained O’Hara. “The new FMC will have the capacity for the worldwide database now only for now but in the future.”

Separately, the new radar system will feature predictive lightning, hail and turbulence detection, while safety enhancements include a vertical situation display.

Based on the Honeywell Primus Epic avionics system, the project requires modification of the electrical cockpit panels, replacement of some of the aircraft’s avionics and systems along with new racks and wiring, explained Airbus head of A300/A310 customer services Olivier Criou. As leader of the project, Airbus serves as the prime integrator of the modification and defines the architecture and layout. Ergonomic improvements include the larger displays and the combination of now separated standby instruments into one, integrated standby instrument system, said Criou. The new suite will also offer synthetic vision capability, providing pilots with three-dimensional view of the terrain, airspace and runways, noted Honeywell president of electronics solutions Carl Esposito.

Criou added that the modification can apply to A310s as well as A300s, and confirmed that Airbus envisions other customers for it.

Following completion of the first airplane in Toulouse, Airbus will decide the location of future modification sites, said O’Hara, who added that the decision to modify versus buy new airplanes boiled down to the life left on the airframes and their capability, apart from the avionics.

“UPS really has a long-term view for our aircraft, so we normally purchase an aircraft and expect it to work within our fleet for approximately 30 or 35 years,” he explained. “We purchased the A300 back in 2000; it was new off the Airbus assembly line and at that time we determined it to be lacking, or a little behind with respect to the avionics in the cockpit. For the rest of the airframe, it’s equivalent to anything that we’re flying now, including the Boeing fleets—the 767 and 757.

“We’ve been looking at the cockpit for many, many years and really the straw that broke the camel’s back was the navigation database,” added O’Hara. UPS began considering options about three years ago, he added, noting that some companies offered a flight management system only, including CMC, Thales and IS&S. Roughly a year ago it chose Airbus to lead the program. “It really will take this aircraft into the long-term future, and it’s going to be equivalent to the capabilities of the 787 or A350,” he concluded.