In Honeywell's Aviation Work, an Indonesian Link


FEBRUARY 08, 2015

Jakarta. Of all the sophisticated equipment in a modern aircraft, with many different systems and devices that only an aerospace engineer could understand, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder — collectively known as the black box — are the items best known to the flying public.

The recent hunt for the black box from crashed AirAsia Flight 8501 demonstrated just how important these items are. The hunt for the black box is what is plastered over the news every time an unfortunate aircraft crashes.

Since the 1960s, aircraft have been equipped with these close-to-indestructible devices that record data and communication within the aircraft, including words exchanged during a time of peril.

The information is critical in determining the cause of the crash, and then working out how to reduce the likelihood of airborne disasters.

Despite all the hype surrounding the black box, few are aware that many of the pieces of equipment are produced in Bintan in Indonesia's Riau Islands province by Honeywell Aerospace, a division of US high-technology systems and hardware provider Honeywell.

Nor is the Bintan plant limited to just producing black boxes for Boeing and Airbus commercial aircraft: Within the world-class Honeywell Aerospace's Bintan manufacturing facility, 200 employees — many of them Indonesians — produce an assortment of world-class avionics and flight management systems for business jets and helicopters for general aviation.

Aside from manufacturing cutting-edge aerospace solutions, the company also provides customized maintenance programs for aircraft fleets in Bintan and Singapore.

Among other safety devices Honeywell supplies to the aviation industry are emergency locator transmitters (ELT), one of which, manufactured by subcontractor Instrumar, caught fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines 787 that was sitting on the tarmac at London's Heathrow Airport in July 2013.

Efficiency meets safety

Honeywell's aerospace technology is designed to meet airlines' needs to reduce costs and increase fuel efficiency and safety. The company has various ways to meet these needs, and some are already onboard Indonesia's own carriers.

Aircraft operated by Garuda Indonesia, for instance, are equipped with Honeywell's IntuVue 3D weather radar system. This advanced system has the ability to gather and analyze a great range of data to inform a pilot on how weather conditions might affect a flight, especially if the weather phenomenon is directly in front or just below the flight path.

"Garuda Indonesia pilots have commented that they've seen aircraft in front of them equipped with conventional radar systems diverting due to a weather condition ahead of them," said Brian Davis, vice president of Honeywell Asia-Pacific airlines division.

"However on the Garuda aircraft, the IntuVue 3D weather radar system analyzed that the hazardous weather was actually below the flight path, thus there was no need to divert and in the process, saving fuel."

Davis added that the IntuVue 3D weather radar system is also lighter than the conventional radar system and requires less maintenance.

Another Indonesian carrier, Lion Air, equips its planes with Honeywell's Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS).

Acccording to the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), during the crash of a Lion Air flight on April 13, 2013, during its landing approach to Denpasar, Bali, it was only when the EGPWS called out a 20-foot height alert that the pilot commanded a go-around. One second later, the aircraft impacted the water.

Still Honeywell asserts the system helps pilots to consistently perform a stabilized, on-target landing approach and avoid unnecessary fuel consumption due to a "roll-around."

A roll-around occurs when it becomes obvious a plane is going to run out of runway to land on due to miscalculation, and the pilot must therefore gain altitude again and come back for a new approach.

Overcoming over-capacity

With all of the high-technology equipment available today, it's still not easy to handle rapid growth in air travel. Airports Council International, or ACI, reported that between 2012 and 2013 Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta served over 60 million passengers, making it the world's 10th busiest airport. This data is both surprising and alarming, considering the airport was designed to accommodate just 22 million passengers.

So busy is Soekarno-Hatta that some local flights have been moved to the Halim Perdanakusuma Air Force Base. Airport operator Angkasa Pura II is currently revitalizing the three terminals at Soekarno-Hatta in a bid to expand capacity to serve 61 million passengers a year.

That work is expected to be ready by the end of this year, even though it will only meet the airport's current passenger load.

A new terminal is being built, with promises that it will be one the best in the world, but with no added runway it won't necessarily fix delays that currently occur at the country's main gateway.

The situation is turning out be an impossible game of catch-up.

Other major Indonesian airports are likely to experience the same problem in the near future.

Technology can help to alleviate congestion issues. A congested airport means an inefficient airport, and the right technology can help reduce inefficiencies.

Advancements have to be orchestrated simultaneously in the air and on the ground, since if only one part of the equation is improved while the other is neglected, it will only shift the congestion and not really solve anything.

Honeywell solutions also reach out to the tarmac with equipment such as a tracking system to identify where each aircraft is at all times and where they are heading.

This system is ideal for airports experiencing over-capacity; they can reduce a whopping 70 percent of communication between air traffic controllers (ATC) and pilots, so that the ATC can focus their attention on more important issues.

Davis added that many airports around the world, including Sydney and Pudong Shanghai, have adopted Honeywell's SmartPath system with its ground-based augmentation system (GBAS) technology.

GBAS is a replacement for the traditional instrument landing system (ILS), and uses GPS signals offering pilots up to 26 varieties of precision approaches into the airport, even in low visibility conditions.

According to Davis, the Indonesian aviation industry needs to start creating a performance-based navigation (PBN) roadmap on the lines of principles set forth by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Compared to today's ground-based navigation systems, PBN offers more reliability, guiding aircraft to fly more efficiently and reduce congestion.

PBN does, however, require a massive effort as it calls for redesigning airspace. As such the government, airlines and technology suppliers need to work together for the best interests of the nation's air transportation.

Globe Asia