A multitude of systems
Modern avionics – the term was coined from the words aviation and electronics – stem in good part from World War II technological advances. Post-WW II developments often continue to have their origin in the military, where a fair portion of the spending is allocated to avionics. In addition to benefitting from the new technologies trickling down from the defense industry, civil aviation has also seen a growing part of its R&D budget devoted to aircraft control systems and the like. These systems include:
Automatic flight control systems lighten the pilots’ workload, especially at crucial times such as landing or in hover, and help eliminate human errors that might otherwise prove fatal.
Display systems provide sensor data that allow the pilots to monitor flight parameters at all times and thus to fly the aircraft safely. Most of the information that used to be displayed on mechanical gauges in older aircraft now appears on electronic displays.
Communications connect the flight deck to the ground and to the passengers. On-board communications are provided by public address systems and aircraft intercoms.
Navigation is the determination of position and heading (direction) on or above the surface of the earth. Avionics can use satellite-based systems, ground-based systems, or any combination of the two. Navigation systems calculate the position automatically and display it to the flight crew on moving map displays.
As a complement to air traffic control, most large transport aircraft and many smaller ones use a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS), which can detect the location of nearby aircraft and provide instructions for avoiding a midair collision. Smaller aircraft may use simpler traffic alert systems which are passive and do not provide information for resolving potential problems. To help avoid collision with terrain, aircraft have systems such as ground-proximity warning systems (GPWS), of which radar altimeters are a key element.
Weather instrumentation such as radar and lightning detectors is important for aircraft which fly at night or in meteorological conditions in which pilots cannot see the weather ahead. Heavy precipitation (as sensed by radar) or severe turbulence (as sensed by lightning activity) are indicators of severe disturbances, and these weather instruments allow pilots to deviate around such areas.
Aircraft management systems
The trend today is to have centralized control of the multiple complex systems fitted to aircraft, including engine monitoring and management.
High-quality electronics is a must
The avionics industry is largely dependent on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronic components designed and produced for other markets, such as consumer electronics, telecommunications, and so forth.
While quality is important in all electronics sectors, it is even more so in transportation. One tiny faulty component in an airplane electronic system may endanger the lives of hundreds of passengers and possibly of people on the ground. The aerospace industry must therefore define its own processes to assure that the COTS parts used in avionics systems will be reliable.
From process management for avionics…
To address this issue, IEC Technical Committee (TC) 107: Process management for avionics, has published IEC TS 62239-1, Process management for avionics - Management plan - Part 1: Preparation and maintenance of an electronic components management plan, which describes processes that avionics manufacturers must document in a plan, in order to use COTS electronic components successfully in aerospace applications. Plans that are certified as compliant to IEC TS 62239-1 are accepted as evidence by aerospace customers, i.e., platform integrators, regulatory agencies, and operators, that the avionics manufacture is able to use COTS electronic components successfully in avionics applications. A number of aerospace integrators and operators are participating in this activity.
IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components, goes one step further, testing and certifying the widest variety of electronic components.
IECQ has a programme specifically designed for the aerospace sector, the IECQ ADHP (Aerospace, Defence and High Performance) Scheme. It also has a Counterfeit Avoidance Programme (IECQ CAP) which ensures that equipment manufacturers or subcontractors used by an organization have processes for managing counterfeit avoidance in the selection and use of components according to IECQ CAP technical and quality management system requirements.
Using IECQ ADHP and IECQ CAP provide assurance that independent conformity assessment and ongoing surveillance are performed by an IECQ Certification Body.
Technical Experts play key role
The IECQ System provides industry with a supply chain verification tool for seeking assurance that electronic components, assemblies, processes and related materials conform to declared technical Standards and Specifications.
To serve industry sectors that have an interest in IECQ ADHP and CAP certification, IECQ appoints Technical Experts, or Subject Matter Expert, based on their accomplishments, experience and qualifications in verifying compliance.
Howard Brewer honoured with IEC 1906 Award
Howard Brewer, IECQ veteran and one of the appointed Technical Experts, has spent more than 25 years of his career in conformity assessment.
In the early 1990s, the transfer of the UK National Supervising Inspectorate (NSI) responsibilities for electronic component approvals from the Defence Research Agency (DRA) to BSI* was the subject of a formal agreement that became effective in July 1991.
The five-year transfer programme got under way in September 1991 and Brewer was one of the first people recruited by BSI as part of a newly-formed team in BSI Quality Assurance.
Brewer has played a pivotal role in the maintenance and development of the schemes which saw the steady migration from the original UK-only BS 9000 scheme to the European CENELEC Electronic Components Committee (CECC) scheme and finally to the IECQ-CECC merger in April 2003 and the formation of a truly international System serving electronic component manufacturers and related industries worldwide. In May 2009, Brewer was appointed Subject Matter Expert for avionics.
Throughout the years, Brewer has shared his knowledge and expertise with his peers and has proved to be a brilliant mentor to everyone in the System.
In recognition of his longstanding exceptional contribution to the IECQ System and the IEC community, Brewer received the IEC 1906 Award in August 2016.
* The BSI Group provides standardization and certification services worldwide and acts as the UK National Standards Body.