MIAMI – UPS Airlines (5X), in a continuing effort to renew its fleet, has upgraded the avionics of its first of 52 A300-600F aircraft. The first aircraft has been in testing since September of 2019 and will enter service this year. The types are expected to be in the fleet for at least the next 20 years.
UPS Airlines’ Airbus A300 fleet has an average age of only 18 years according to planespotters.net and is only the third oldest fleet in the airline.
The Louisville-based cargo airline first announced the upgrade program with Honeywell and Airbus during a May 2017 press conference. UPS is also undergoing a separate major cockpit upgrade program across its Boeing 757 and 767 fleet. The A300s are being retrofitted with new embedded processing, liquid crystal displays, and other Honeywell Primus Epic avionics systems and components.
The enhancement will include a new flight management system, a new GPS navigation system, a weather radar, and a new integrated Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) for digital communications. There will also be a new vertical situation display added to the upgraded A300 cockpit. The LCD displays will be upgraded to four 6 x 8 inches screens compared to the previous 5 x 5 inch screens installed in the aircraft.
As there were no A300-600 test aircraft at Airbus’ disposal, UPS and Airbus agreed to lease one of UPS’ aircraft for flight testing. The A300-600 was originally designed with older tools, but the team used modern 3D techniques to conceive and check the installation of the new systems into the existing fuselage nose.
Why Upgrade a 20-year-old Aircraft Cockpit?
The computer ran out of space! The original database in the A300-600 was from the 1980s and was adequate to contain all options and routes within its 1GB of Random Access Memory (RAM). Compare this to the RAM of a modern smartphone, which typically has 4GB of RAM!
But database growth over the years means that even North American airspace information alone vastly exceeds this memory size. UPS, therefore, carves it up onto separate regional databases with every database change taking about 40 to 50 minutes per computer. The navigation data required to fly in current national air systems has grown significantly over the last five years.
UPS estimates that it will continue to grow in the future at a rate of approximately 7% per year as the United States manages increased air traffic and congestion in the national airspace and terminal areas. Having the newer computers means if a flight is scheduled outside of the current database the aircraft won’t need the additional hour on the ground because when the aircraft isn’t flying it’s not making money.
The additional upgrades also include Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, new standby instruments, and a new central maintenance system providing greater maintenance information. A new state-of-the-art Primus EPIC®-integrated IntuVue™ Weather Radar RDR-4000 from Honeywell was also installed.
This new system automatically scans the sky at 17 tilt angles, the most in the industry, and continuously delivers a 3D view of the weather through an intuitive vertical navigation display giving UPS the ability to safely and more effectively avoid weather hazards.
These include predictive wind shear, and predictive hail and lightning. The intuitive system also makes training pilots quicker and easier, resulting in lower costs. Better avoiding weather hazards should bring a reduction in lightning strikes and the costly inspections they require. Pilot fatigue is reduced because the radar gives great visibility, giving pilots more information and confidence.
The UPS A300-600 cockpit upgrade is currently in flight testing. It is scheduled for approval and certification by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). For the remainder of the aircraft, UPS will select an MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) provider.
The project also includes detailed delivery planning, covering the service bulletins as well as the aircraft modification kits. Airbus will also support UPS and their MRO selection for the implementation, starting with on-site support for the first embodiment.
Featured image: Brandon Ferris/Airways