UPS ‘Futureproofs’ Airbus A300s with Primus Epic

 - February 8, 2021, 2:10 PM

UPS expects to extend the service life on its Airbus A300s by at least another 20 years with a project to upgrade their cockpits with Honeywell Primus Epic avionics. Speaking with reporters on a videoconference Monday, UPS Aircraft Maintenance director of engineering Ed Walton said the upgrade to UPS’s 52 A300s will also allow for further operational flexibility, giving pilots more ready access to airports, for example.

“That’s the real challenge with the growing databases,” explained Walton. “As the airports continue creating more departures and arrivals [and] your database doesn’t include [them], you get pretty much kicked out the queue and you have to hold until the airport has time to deal with you. So by doing this, we future-proofed this airplane.”

Honeywell calls the “really serious upgrade” to the cockpits a first-of-its-kind endeavor for the A300s, all of which UPS took new from Airbus from between 2000 and 2006.

“We did know when we purchased them that they had an older-generation flight deck that we would have to address at some point,” explained Walton. “So we began looking at different options really around 2010 and in 2017 we really kicked the project off in earnest.”

Walton said a desire to address any obsolescence issue until at least 2035 drove the decision to pursue a project of such size. Airbus received EASA approval to perform the upgrades toward the end of last year and since then the team received FAA approval, he added.

Walton further explained that the limitations of the A300’s flight management computer (FMC) perhaps most influenced the decision to launch the project. “[The FMC] only had about 200 kilobytes of storage capacity, and that worked ok for the first decade,” said Walton. “Even though we only fly the airplane in North America, we were pretty much having to be very stingy with the navigation database that we put into the airplane [and] had to eliminate a lot of airports. Eventually, we had to start splitting the country up into different segments. And so an airplane that would fly, let's say from Newark to Louisville, would pretty much need to go back to the Northeast to be able to fly with the same database. If we needed that airplane to go to Denver, then there's a 45-minute upload to another database.”

Another benefit of the new system centers on safety and situational awareness for pilots through the addition of vertical guidance, for example. The new system also features predictive wind shear—what Walton called a big enhancement—and TCAS integrated into the displays. “This really brings us into the modern realm in terms of what pilots expect on a new-type aircraft,” noted Walton. The new system also uses a central maintenance computer, allowing for the download of status in flight and allowing mechanics the ability to react more quickly.

UPS has entered final negotiations with two MROs, which Walton wouldn’t name until the contracts get signed, to perform the upgrades. Plans call for work at the first MRO to start in May and the second in June, he added, in time to complete all 52 airplanes by UPS’s peak season near the end of 2022. Walton said he expects roughly a three-week downtime to perform the modification on each airplane.

“We've just been through this similar modification on our 757s, and we're completing a similar modification of our 767s,” he added. “So that will be done by May. So it's a process we're very familiar with and we're very comfortable we'll hit our timelines.”