As the Covid-19 vaccine begins to be distributed next year, business aviation travel will recover, boosted by new customers who have replaced first-class airline trips with charter and fractional-share flights, according to Honeywell Aerospace president and CEO Mike Madsen. During an NBAA VBACE press conference today, Madsen said Honeywell is continuing technology development in key areas that will play a role in the post-Covid economic recovery.
“When we spoke to operators [during Honeywell’s annual survey], buyers of super-midsize and large-cabin jets continue to rate direct operating costs and cabin size as either first or second or vice versa,” Madsen said. Also important are performance and city-pair capability, and what Honeywell sees is a trend that buyers want the range of large-cabin jets but in a super-midsize cabin.
This trend highlights the importance of engines that can power this new type of airplane, and Honeywell is already working on its next engine family, which will be larger than the current HTF series. “When you’re in the engine business,” he said, “you’re constantly investing in new products. They have a long life but do need refreshing occasionally. And we do see this general migration towards larger aircraft. If you could buy for the price of a super-midsize aircraft the capability that you have with a large-cabin aircraft, an ultra-long-range aircraft of today, what an incredible value proposition that is. And it’s predicated on continued efficiency improvements being made by the airframers and continued investment by the engine manufacturers in more efficient engines.”
In the avionics arena, Honeywell is shifting to a more open-architecture environment, which will allow airframers to design more customized avionics interfaces and add flexibility for modifications and upgrades, Madsen explained, as well as more flexibility in interconnectivity. This means that business aviation pilots will see functionality like being able to upload a flight plan from an iPad and easier ways to bring weather information into the aircraft.
The core avionics features that are tied to safety and performance will remain hard-coded, he explained, but tailorable functionality can be wrapped around those core features. “We want to make this available to make the aircraft more bespoke to that brand or to the operator,” he said.
Honeywell is also exploring new safety features, taking a cue from Garmin’s Autoland technology. “We’re looking at that, not just for safety but for pilot workload reduction,” he said.
For legacy business aircraft equipped with Primus Elite avionics, Madsen said, “We’re going to continue to evolve, and there are a series of upgrades coming next year. We anticipate to continue to make those improvements over the next couple of years but will replace Elite with a new system directly focused on that segment. It will be more flexible, not as complex, simpler to use, and much more user friendly and flexible than the Elite we have today.”
Honeywell is playing into its strengths in high-speed airborne connectivity, not just for cabin satcom but also in the flight deck as a supplement and replacement for high-frequency radios as well as connected maintenance features such as automatic downloading of engine data. “Once you have the equipment on the aircraft, it’s a minimal investment to get data off the aircraft,” he said. “As we start to see use of aircraft expanding outside the traditional areas of East Asia, the U.S., and Europe, connected maintenance is more essential to serve aircraft more efficiently.”
Madsen anticipates that business aviation will reach 2019 activity levels in 2022, “but then I think it will continue to accelerate. It will take a year for the vaccine to penetrate and health and safety protocols to get back in place. In 2022 companies will recover, and this will fuel more purchase of aircraft and increased flying activity.”