Digital technologies and services have taken the aircraft cabin by storm, and the digital transformation is now headed for the cockpit, allowing aircraft to share and receive data online during flight. Digital solutions for inflight cockpit connectivity are already available, and it is now possible for aircraft to receive updated weather forecasts and to share real-time information about their position. In this way connectivity will make flying more efficient, as the exchange of data can be used to optimise flight routes. This efficiency will help avoid delays, save fuel, reduce environmental impact, and ultimately bring down costs.
The many opportunities offered by cockpit connectivity solutions are in stark contrast to the cockpit of today, as all the information needed for a flight must be brought on to the aircraft before take-off, with communication during the flight achieved via voice or small text messages. Fortunately, the aviation industry is slowly embracing the connected cockpit. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, carriers were testing new solutions – Alaska Airlines’ trial of NASA’s Traffic Aware Strategic Aircrew Requests (TASAR) and Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) technologies, for example.
Cockpit applications are already subject to rigorous testing and certification, and for good reason. As cockpit applications will come to rely on connectivity, thorough testing of application behaviour under different link conditions will be important for certification. In other segments relying on satellite connectivity, emulated satellite links are already used for verification purposes.
Emulated tests grant full control
Real-life aircraft tests are expensive and time-consuming and, more importantly, not a reliable option for verification under different satellite link impairments such as latency, fading and congestion. An emulated test, on the other hand, is a much more reliable, cheaper and swifter option, because it allows developers to test their application in any scenario – independent from available aircraft or network conditions.
An emulated satellite link gives developers full control of the test setup, enabling them to emulate different kinds of satellite link behaviours, e.g. rough weather, satellite link impairments, handovers, or satellite link drops. This emulation allows developers to test the application’s’ performance and usability thoroughly when exposed to different conditions.
To obtain certification, proof of requirement fulfilment, and robustness to abnormal situations must be provided. This is possible with the use of code measurement tools in a fully managed testbed. Developers can measure the test’s coverage directly in the code of the application in order to make sure that all critical code is covered. Measurement tools are used to instrument the source code of the application. During test execution, these tools will provide data that indicates which parts of the code have been executed, and make suggestions for missing test cases.
With the growing market for connectivity in aircraft – both in the cabin and the cockpit – the demand for more intelligent test solutions is also increasing. Combining managed and emulated testbeds and visibility into code coverage, end-to-end tests lead to more efficient testing and more accurate test results. This will also shorten the test time and thus the time to market for new applications, giving developers a competitive edge.
For the airline companies, better testing will lead to a safer journey towards the connected cockpit, with reliable applications. With the connected cockpit comes the benefits of updated information, passenger lists, weather reports, and connectivity to the air traffic management – all things that ease the pilot’s job and make flying safer.