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European aviation in the driving seat: Clean Sky's Disruptive Cockpit for Large Passenger Aircraft

Just as efforts are underway in the automotive sector to bring greater autonomy and vehicles to market, there's similar inertia towards the same goal in aviation. The Disruptive Cockpit for Large Passenger Aircraft project being developed within the framework of LPA Platform 3 is an enabler to facilitate deployment of innovative technologies developed under Clean Sky 2 for the next generation of aircraft — whereby technology will manage the functions and operations more suited to automation, freeing up the pilot to focus more on tasks where human judgment, experience and piloting skills add better value. The ambition is to provide disruptive solutions and technologies to pilots and to contribute to Europe's aviation sector competitiveness.

Considerations of safety, traffic capacity handling, and operational cost reduction, plus compliance with ACARE environmental goals and the EU's roadmap towards Flightpath 2050 targets are foremost in the processes of bringing greater autonomy to cockpit operations. Clean Sky's Disruptive Cockpit for LPA project leverages disruptive technologies and opportunities, enabling European aviation to prevail against the backdrop of a fiercely competitive global market.

"The key challenges associated with this project are first of all to develop the new disruptive concept which will ultimately meet the safety requirements because safety should remain unchanged or improved" says Clean Sky Project Officer Sebastien Dubois.

"We're working towards single pilot operations and that means we need to develop all the necessary core enabler technologies — the highly technical relevant and environmentally friendly solutions at the right maturity level — that will make it possible. On an industrial and on a strategic level the Disruptive Cockpit project is essentially about European aviation capabilities and competitiveness" says Dubois.

To deliver the pioneering scope of the project, development of an intuitive and multimodal environment is key. Hence the project focuses intensely around new functions, computing resources and communication. These include cockpit procedure automation, pilot monitoring systems such as eye tracking and the use of sensors, head worn displays, ground collision avoidance, new navigation sensors, voice recognition systems for commands and for processing instructions from air traffic controllers and Airline Operation Centres, multimodal integration for flight crew interface, tactile HMI, and image based landing — the list of requirements is phenomenally ambitious.

Additionally, pilot health monitoring systems will be essential. Assuming that there are less pilots on board the cockpit it will be necessary to ensure that they are not overloaded by stressful operational conditions. As aircraft become increasingly capable of longer range flights the obvious concern around tiredness on long haul operations must also be carefully factored into the equation. 

"As you reduce the number of pilots in the loop it means that in case of failure you need to implement some kind of recovery scenario. So either you install some form of intelligence facility onto the aircraft where, when you press a button, the aircraft can self-navigate the aircraft safely to an airport alone — or, we design and develop a solution where you can take over control from the ground. In Clean Sky, we are concentrating our effort on the 1st part." says Clean Sky's Dubois.

In terms of schedule, the objective is to perform some flight tests along the programme schedule at different steps, first of all to confirm the maturity of the concepts, and undertake flight tests on some specific equipment in terms of performance in flight.

"Concerning validation of the concept of operations for the disruptive cockpit, at completion of the project we do not intend to design a brand-new cockpit to perform flight tests but will mainly operate on the ground with different ground tests which will be fully representative of the concept of operations, immersing the pilot into an environment and maturing on one hand the technologies on specific benches and on the other hand the concept of operations with pilots in the loop on the ground" adds Dubois. "Parallel to that we will be maturing technologies at different stages up to Flight tests (TRL6) depending on the technology. The idea is to reach a proof of concept (TRL3/4) by the end of 2020 or early 2021 and to keep maturing technologies until 2023".

To deliver this involves the development of additional avionics technologies necessary to implement and integrate the novel functions under development, which will then be tested in a representative environment, either on the ground using test benches, or in flight where flight environment is of paramount importance to validate suitability and performance and to confirm maturity level. Key objectives of the flight tests will be to put the crew in realistic conditions including external visual clues (such as see and avoid); to monitor the dynamic behaviour of the flight test vehicle and its systems; and, to monitor real time performance of control loops.
But behind all this technology, the story of the Disruptive Cockpit for LPA project is also a story about people, according to the airframer:
"In our global world, connecting people is key. Besides the Internet and digital communication technologies, civil aeronautical transport is a major contributor to this purpose. Not surprisingly, we see a steady increase of commercial aviation, with traffic doubling every 15 years. This leads to increased pressure and complexity during flight operations, and a need for a large number of new pilots to be trained" says Matthieu Mayolle, Cockpit R&T at Airbus 

"We may have to train 600,000 pilots in the next 20 years, while there are around 200,000 pilots active today! This means a huge business opportunity for our industry, but a true risk of a crew shortage. This risk has to be addressed having in mind that we must be able to cope with the skills, positively and negatively, of this next generation of pilots," says Mayolle. "Fortunately, to face this challenge, we see also that technology, and in particular automation and autonomy, is evolving at an exponential pace. This trend is already more and more visible in the automotive industry. For civil air transport, autonomy technologies may allow large pilotless airplanes somewhere in the future. But considering both environment complexity and the strong safety level targeted, we think that humans will remain in the centre of the next cockpit generation, in particular for mission management and decision making, while benefiting from new human-machine interaction means and autonomy technologies, thus allowing to rethink the cockpit and flight operations with only one pilot and new human machine teaming. The Disruptive Cockpit for LPA project in Clean Sky 2 is supporting this challenge through technology maturity development and large system demonstrator deployment".

Human factors are pivotal in all this, as there are significant differences between having one and two pilots, and it is critical to ensure that the solutions that are under development in the project will assist, rather than confuse the pilot by being easier to operate. Therefore the user interface of the systems equipment and management must be ergonomically optimised.

"We have both an incremental approach and in some parts a disruptive approach to move from existing cockpit operations to single pilot flight" says Clean Sky's Dubois, "and this is what we're trying to design and assess. On one hand we have the advanced technologies, on the other hand the concept of operations. This means pursuing different routes, firstly concentrating efforts on autonomous flight technologies which include artificial intelligence, cognitive computing science and other relevant technologies that will help the pilot concentrate during adverse conditions on essential tasks without being distracted by other factors which could be directly handled by the system".

Another focal point is operational cost. It is essential to design and develop a cockpit which is competitive compared to those of non-EU airframers and which is fully compatible with all the Air Traffic Management systems globally. Therefore it must be both SESAR compliant and NextGen compliant to integrate with the ATM roadmaps that are deployed in Europe and in the US to accommodate increasing air traffic capacity. 

Why is this particular project so important for European aviation? The consensus at Airbus is that single pilot operations will be a necessary and inevitable 'game changer' to face next generation aircraft challenges:

"This project will support European civil aeronautical industry to maintain its leadership, by developing skills and technologies noticeably in human-machine interaction and autonomy.
We know that our major competitors overseas are already addressing this new paradigm with their partners and suppliers, and Clean Sky 2 offers a great opportunity to bring up to speed the European civil aeronautics ecosystem, from Universities to major systems providers" says Airbus's Mayolle.
In terms of measurable results achieved so far, various technology bricks have been matured in terms of functional specifications and first technological feasibility assessment — noticeably use of future weather radar technology for collision risk detection, a voice to text module to capture ATC voice messages, LIDAR technology for air data measurement, and image sensors and processing technologies for runway detection and autonomous landing guidance. In addition, flight tests have been performed on an Airbus A350 with new inertial measurement unit technology (GPAHRS - Ground Positioning Attitude and Heading Reference System) for performance assessment.
Additionally, a new system bench has been launched and is now available to integrate critical functions including a new Cockpit Display System (CDS) (including tactile capabilities and functional protocols), a new enhanced Flight Management System (FMS) (for more autonomous aircraft trajectory management), and a new enhanced Flight Warning System (for more autonomous aircraft system failure management). First models for CDS and FMS have already been delivered by different partners and integrated on the system demonstrator.
By the end of the project, Mayolle says that "the objective is, by 2023, to bring all those individual technologies up to a development launch maturity level (TRL5/6), but also to integrate them together to really address multisystem feasibility demonstration. This is really key as new cockpit functions are more and more integrated, and rely on several systems working together in an optimised way to ensure the level of performance required".
In addition to individual flight tests already performed for new inertial measurement technology, Airbus plans to perform further flight tests as required to assess new technology performance — for example LIDAR will be installed and flight tested on an Airbus A350 in 2019. Furthermore, the system bench has already been launched and will continue to grow along the project, so as to ensure an overall feasibility demonstration at functional and operational level. 

"It should be emphasised that on top of the technical feasibility demonstrations that will be carried out these demos are a very efficient and motivating way to enable different industrial contributors to work together towards a common concrete objective and make it happen" says Mayolle, pointing also to the social and environmental benefits of the Clean Sky project:
"Some new cockpit and flight operation technologies that are studied will allow taking into account more complex flight operations that are noticeably optimising fuel consumption and traffic congestion, while simplifying the management from the pilot's point of view. In addition, allowing the European industry to pioneer the path of new autonomy technologies is key to maintaining and developing its future competitiveness against worldwide competitors, with huge economical and employment benefits. On top of that, it will be a key enabler for the expected traffic growth that is driven by a global need to allow people to meet together all around the world. Clean Sky's Disruptive Cockpit for Large Passenger Aircraft project will contribute to increased social mobility without any compromise on safety nor on operational reliability" says Mayolle.