So It's Been 20 Years

The evolution of avionics and the industry


Reminiscing has never been one of my greatest joys. In fact, for me, most of it involves waking up at some unusual hour only to venture back to the airport to check if in fact I did safety that connector, read the squawk correctly, or comply with all the required tests. So what exactly is noteworthy in the world of avionics over the past two decades?

One of the most obvious changes has been the gradual evolution of mechanics into technicians. In the eyes of many this change is nothing more than a play on words. The implication in my view is that our industry has now realized our profession involves significantly more than just mechanical knowledge and aptitude.

With virtually all the aircraft types certificated within the last 20 years it becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish where the airframe stops and avionics begin. Almost all of us in an aircraft maintenance role have come to the realization that computer technology is in fact not a passing fad but another reality of the job. The concept of self-diagnostics has still not been fully comprehended by many of our colleagues and the thought of “Fly by Wire” evolving into business aviation as well as general aviation has been inconceivable.

Education and training
Perhaps the biggest challenge our industry faces is keeping the knowledge level of technicians in line with technological advancements. Another reality is that aircraft of today can not be learned in the same way as those manufactured prior to the 1980s.

Many initiatives are underway through the efforts of several professional organizations to improve the aviation maintenance profession followed with acknowledgement for the efforts of those willing and able to participate in continuing educational programs. Among the ones carrying momentum is The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). It currently has significant thrust in advancing our quest for knowledge with an initiative called “Project Bootstrap,” www.nbaa.org/prodev/bootstrap. This plan creates an achievable set of goals intended to provide direction to technicians seeking a career path and in part provides guidance for becoming an effective avionics technician.

Within our 20-year time spectrum, the Federal Aviation Administration, along with several other airworthiness authorities, has implemented programs such as AMT Awards in an attempt to stimulate technicians to actively pursue education including human factors and regulatory content.

Increase in air traffic
Another significant challenge of the last 20 years has been accommodating the exponential increase in the world’s aircraft fleet. This has become a major issue in areas associated with high-density air travel. Several initiatives have been put in place and continue to evolve including reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) and reduced navigation performance (RNP).

The intent of RVSM is to enable more aircraft to utilize the most preferable and most efficient tracks while accomplishing their missions. This is done in much the same way as a highway department accommodates increased traffic without pouring more concrete. They take the existing lanes of traffic and make them narrower along additional lanes to be added in the existing paved area. This should automatically cause driver awareness to increase significantly as drifting in another lane becomes more likely. For aircraft to operate at Flight Level 290 to 410 in designated RVSM airspace both the crew and the aircraft have to be certified. This certification does impact maintenance practices. In some cases more frequent certification of altitude indicating systems is needed along with detailed geometric inspections of strategic areas of the airframe. Once the initial RVSM preparations are made and the aircraft performance is validated, application must be made to the RVSM monitoring agency (usually the local airworthiness authority) for the approval to fly within the designated airspace. This privilege does come with an impact on maintenance as certain required checks must be performed routinely to ensure continued airworthiness.

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