Challenges with Avionics Test Equipment and Evolving Technology
Avionics testers are facing new challenges as technology evolves. Some of these challenges include cyber protection, fiber optics, productivity, versatility, size, and no-fault-founds (NFFs). Avionics are any electronics applied to aviation. Cyber security is becoming increasingly important as technology advances because there is an increase in the ability to hack information or install viruses. Hacking refers to the act of gaining unauthorized access to data in a system or computer and viruses corrupt the systems data.
There are different stages within testing in which the information needs to be protected. When systems and subsystems are taken off of an aircraft, they are placed on trays and connected to aircraft testing equipment. Avionics bus and network test instruments need to be protected so they are not hacked when information is stored in the tester or when it communicates information to other systems. More avionics test equipment will be added to an aircraft as they decrease in size and increase in efficiency; these systems will also need to be protected from infections and hacking.
An NFF is a response from a repair station or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) when a component that has failed in flight is tested and no failure has been found. NFFs are becoming more common as technology becomes increasingly more complex. Some of the common factors that cause NFF are inaccurate in-flight or line maintenance diagnosis, multiple removals of equipment that surround the failure, inaccurate or incomplete testing at repair stations or OEMs, the inability to test equipment in the environment in which it is used, and the failure to check for a connector failure.
Automation and versatile equipment will be used more to improve productivity, create greater situational awareness, and reduce operating costs. However, the challenge is reducing the chance of human error when interacting with these systems— whether it’s the pilot or the maintenance repair technician. Implementing systems that are capable of integrating multiple complex components and simplifying them to reduce human error is difficult. It is also imperative to create systems that can handle multiple failures, unexpected problems, and situations that require deviations from standard operating procedures (SOPs). Creating these systems is particularly challenging when considering that they cannot always be tested in the same environment in which they will be operating.
Aircraft part manufacturers have started integrating fiber optics into aircraft design, primarily for communication. The gradual switch from copper wire to fiber optics has increased efficiency; it can transmit more information in less time and over longer distances. Fiber optic cables are also lighter, decreasing the weight added to an aircraft. One of the challenges in using fiber optics is that the optical transceiver ages quickly when used in high shock and vibration levels or extreme temperatures. Another challenge is that the amount of optical signal available on the receiving end may be small. In order to combat this, there is aviation testing equipment that alternates testing between avionics boxes and test instruments, testing all sending and receiving ports.