Connectivity is a buzz word at this year’s Paris Airshow, with a variety of present and future technologies designed to make life easier for both pilots and passengers on display.

    French multinational aerospace electrical designers Thales Group has a variety of prototype devices on display at Le Bourget for the two week show, which opened on Monday (June 15).

    Their TopMax head-mounted display (HMD) for pilots has attracted much interest, with the likes of French President Francois Holllande and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon visiting the large Thales booth. Fillon eagerly tried out TopMax, which is integrated into the company’s Avionics 2020, dubbed by Thales their ”Advanced Integrated Cockpit’.

    Thales aviation marketing director Richard Perrot said TopMax was easy to use and could potentially be retrofitted in existing cockpits. A camera on the helmet tracks reflective, coded, stickers attached to the roof of the cockpit, eliminating the necessity for magnetic mapping of the cockpit.

    “TopMax is a very light and easy-to-use system that can be fitted in any type of cockpit because the installation is very light,” said Perrot. “You just need a few stickers on the overhead panel and then the system has an optical tracking system combined with an inertial system, and it’s a very light and very easy to use system.”

    Aimed at commercial aircraft, which often do not have space for head up displays (HUD), TopMax was developed by adapting Thales’s existing HMDs for military pilots. “This system is based on our over 20 years experience within the military field on helmet mounted display system, and for the first time we will introduce it on the commercial aircraft. So we are launching today, we’re in the commercial launch of this product, and we aim at having it on board and on the head of pilots within a couple of years from now. Typically we aim to have it on board in 2017.”

    Perrot says that Avionics 2020 helps pilots by giving them a wider field of view, enabling them to land better in difficult conditions, such as a crosswind. According to Perrot, “it gives a better situational awareness because you’re normally limited to one field of view but you have a 180 degree field of view (with the 2020 Cockpit of future). A typical example of advantage is an approach with crosswind, lateral wind, the pilot will be able to see the runway whereas using a conventional system you cannot see in the axis of the airplane.”

    The French firm is also showing off Shape, an interactive touchscreen-based system for use by traffic control staff. Controllers can select aircraft screen by looking at them, via a small eye tracking device. Multi-touch surfaces and audio outputs, all modeled into an ergonomically designed console with adjustable height for standing or sitting complete the package.

    “Shape is an innovative working position for the air traffic controller. It’s to speed up the interaction between the controller and the system,” said Thales’s senior development engineer Sylvain Moos. “We have no keyboard, no mouse. The controller is interacting with the system through the gaze information and the touchscreen.”

    U.S. conglomerate Honeywell is showing off its Cockpit of the Future on a range of Falcon jets. Sitting aboard a current Dassault Falcon F7X, a revolutionary large-cabin, long range, business trijet, Honeywell Vice President Ken Snodgrass told Reuters the current version of the company’s Primus Epic cockpit was at the cutting edge of aviation technology.

    “This is the Honeywell Primus Epic cockpit. We’re actually sitting in the Dassault F7X. It’s one of the most modern cockpits in the world. It has four very large screens, and you’ll see things are set up to be very very graphical. So not like the older cockpits where you had a lot of button pushes. There’s a lot more now like you use on you mobile phone and also for your tablets,” he said.

    Snodgrass said the design of cockpits was catching up with the kind of interactive technology common to modern phones and tablets. Snodgrass says the relative lag in introducing such technology has been down to the need to verify all elements of safety. “It takes longer on the technology bringing to aerospace because of safety. We must bring things on, earn their way onboard to bring that technology out to the flight deck in case of a situation in flight. It must be very easy, intuitive for the pilots to use,” he said.

    Japanese electronics giants Panasonic is showing off its Global Communications Services which the company says aims to enhance an airline passenger’s in-flight experience and allow airlines to cement a relationship between consumer and airline. Their range of in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) is already in use in a range of airlines such as Etihad, Emirates, and American Airlines.

    Panasonic calls its EX3 the most advanced in-flight entertainment system in operation today, allowing passengers to enjoy a wide-range of previously unthinkable activities, including watching live televised sport, surfing the web, sourcing an impressive array of new movies, and even conducting FaceTime with friends and family back on the ground.

    Senior integrated marketing manager Matthias Walther said EX3 allowed passengers to enjoy a “seamless travel process”, allowing them to enjoy the same facilities in the air as available at home.

    “(During) the soccer World Cup last year where we had about four million people watching the World Cup live onboard the aircraft, and that’s the passenger side and what we’re shooting for, what we’re close to really delivering is the seamless travel process for the passenger,” said Walther. “There’s no difference between the experience that you have on the ground and the experience you have on the aircraft. And from an airline perspective it’s a really interesting opportunity for them as it allows them to build and continue their relationship with the passengers that they have on the ground onboard the aircraft.”   

    Other programs are aimed at helping airlines fly more efficiently, while providing real time weather data to meteorologists. According to Walther, these include “operations that help airlines be more efficient in their daily operation whether it’s maintenance related or aircraft related. We have weather sensors on some of the aircraft that send weather data back to the ground, we analyze that and either provide that to meteorological companies or back to the aircraft so they can adjust their flight routes and save money.”

    The international show is the biggest of its kind with 2260 exhibitors from 47 countries.

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