Thales is set to deliver an “entirely connected” flight management system (FMS) upgrade in the middle of the next decade. PureFlyt is billed as the FMS of the future designed to incorporate data from multiple sources, internal and external to the aircraft, making aircraft operations more efficient.
In the air, the digital revolution has only just begun. A paradigm shift in onboard cockpit electronics is taking place in the connected airspace and PureFlyt is at the forefront of this digital new age, leading the next generation of Flight Management System that truly makes the aircraft a node of connectivity. By computing and sharing vast amounts of data, PureFlyt will make flights safer, greener, easier for the pilots to manage, more profitable for airlines and, all this, ultimately for the full benefits of passengers. – Jean-Paul Ebanga, Thales Vice-President Flight Avionics.
A key design element of the PureFlyt solution is its ability to integrate onboard inputs from the aircraft and external data such as weather details fed in via a connected electronic flight bag application. the company suggests that with this solution “aircraft trajectory can be permanently controlled, adapted and enhanced, resulting in optimised flight, decreased fuel consumption and improved passenger comfort.” Thales also notes that “PureFlyt will … bring improved performance and reactivity to the aircraft during complex phases of flight and will calculate alternative trajectories in real time to propose or react quickly to changes of plan.”
Thales calls attention to the significant increase in aircraft expected by 2030 and especially predictions around the dramatic increase in drones/UAVs that will require ever expanding data processing levels to ensure safe flight. Even as the company touts the ability for its systems to provide additional details to the pilots that help justify the decisions rather than just stating the outcome, allowing the connected services to alter a flight path autonomously raises some questions about the role of pilots and where the line will be drawn.
The move also raises questions about the security of the FMS, especially when tied to external inputs that can alter aircraft trajectory. A connection between the networks for passenger-facing systems and the flight operations was proposed as part of the 787 design but eventually scrapped in favor of physically separate networks. If the connected EFB operates on the same wifi hardware and satellite connection as the passengers use this connected FMS sees an increased exposure risk. That could create certification challenges.
Or airlines may simply choose to operate with a second network on board. The EFB data needs are generally lower volumes and could be supported by a lightweight solution such as SwiftBroadband or, for true global coverage, the Iridium NEXT constellation and a Certus network connection. Integrating such services into the flight deck would come at a relatively low cost compared to the improved security and coverage they can provide to aircraft operations.
The company also suggests that the product is “cyber-secure by design” though further details on just what that means, particularly with respect to the WiFi/EFB/FMS link, remain unclear.
Thales expects the PureFlyt solution to be available for line-fit and retrofit in 2024.