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Data to go

Cathay Pacific is introducing enhanced e-enablement on its fleet to deliver operational benefits for maintenance and cabin crew

Downloading maintenance data has become a big issue in recent years, driven by a number of factors: new-generation aircraft like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 are being delivered with e-enablement; the number of aircraft with connectivity is rapidly increasing (although mainly for passenger and cabin crew use); still providing a potential outlet for more technical data; and the greater awareness in the aviation industry of the use of big data has sparked interest in predictive maintenance to prevent failures and avoid AOGs.


When Cathay Pacific began to look for its second-generation, e-enabled, airborne global connectivity programme, a benefit of the Avionica proposal was that it would take responsibility for the technology, hardware, software, and would provide support services for certification – the previous project involved five suppliers. In addition, the company offered small lightweight equipment, modularity
and scalability.


Avionica’s solution for Cathay Pacific consists of four modules:


avCM 4G cellular device 


The avCM 4G Wireless GSE Module includes a seven-band HSPA+ 4G Cell Module that transfers data on demand with worldwide coverage. The 4G transfer speed is up to 21mbps for upload and up to 5.76mbps for download. That means one hour of flight data can be downloaded in 30 seconds. The unit is easy to install, measuring 5.6cm x 2.4cm x 4.7cm and weighing 71g. This can be achieved with a universal installation kit, or with ARINC 404, or ARINC 600 tray adapters.




avSYNC is a secure, web-hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) that is hosted by Avionica on scalable, redundant servers in hardened server farms. Data is conveyed directly to and from aviONS and avRDC MAX (see below) over secure, encrypted Virtual Private Network tunnels, and transferred to or from any location with internet access. This is the bypass for the expensive ground segment, offering upload and download for a fixed cost per megabyte.




The aviONS Onboard Network Server is the interface between the other components of the system, working via ARINC data links and a local Ethernet. It measures 18cm x 10.3cm x 6.6cm and weighs 1.36kg.




satLINK MAX provides up to four channels of Iridium satellite-based voice and data. It consists of two LRU modules. The data concentrator (avRDC MAX) is installed in the avionics bay, adjacent to the Communications Management Unit (CMU), Multifunction Control Display Unit (MCDU) and audio panel. The Iridium radio module (satLINK MAX) is installed in the fuselage crown area, adjacent to the antenna, minimising RF losses. The two devices are attached by a single Ethernet and power cable. This reduces the overall weight of the installation whilst maximising performance.


No additional controls, handsets, or displays are required as satLINK MAX integrates directly into the aircraft’s existing audio panel and is a plug-in replacement for the ARINC 741/761 Satellite Data Unit, providing dialling capability via the aircraft’s existing ARINC 739 MCDU or ACARS Interactive Display Unit (IDU). The same interfaces are used for data messaging, routable over the aircraft’s existing ARINC 724/758 MU/CMU.


Rob Saunders, Head of Engineering Cost Management & Business Improvement & Lean at Cathay Pacific, says the airline has had a clear design goal for its e-enabled solution for some years. This being full-time cost-effective global connectivity for flight and cabin crew operations. With a growing number of polar routes, Iridium was the obvious choice. Whilst the original solution met the design goal, hardware obsolescence risks and increasing certification costs drove a decision to review the project. 


The outcome was that the design goal was still valid but cheaper, simplified solutions were becoming available in the market. As a result the Class 3 EFBs in the cockpit and cabin initiated in 2009 have been deactivated in favour of the new simpler, lighter and more cost-effective solution from Avionica. This new solution provides more capability than those of the OEMs that were previously available at that time – at a fraction of the cost. Saunders’ view is that this is an example of where capabilities in what was previously termed ‘Avionics’ are becoming available from domestic technology roots, the iPad being the game changer in this arena. He predicts that the industry will see more companies producing cost-effective solutions that challenge the high-cost culture of aviation equipment. IFE will be an interesting market to watch over the next five years.




The current plan calls for the ‘first of type’ of each aircraft in the Cathay Pacific, Cathay Pacific Cargo and Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair) fleets (see table, page 50) to be completely modified and certified by May 2018. This will involve the complete Avionica package, including the satcom antenna, the avSYNC QAR download and avCM 4G cellular device. To accelerate business benefits, Cathay plans to install just the avSYNC QAR and avCM 4G on the rest of the fleet as this can be completed during a long layover, around 16 hours. This will upgrade the fleet to a common wireless QAR allowing data to be transmitted automatically whenever the aircraft is on the ground, without the need for an engineer to visit the aircraft and extract the information on media. >>

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