Air Transport World

Avionics and electronics. (electronic systems on aircraft becoming increasingly costly to maintain) (The Hidden Cost of High Tech)

With the advent of advances in avionics and electronics, airlines report many of the same concerns that they have with the introduction of advanced composites. They charge that the sharp increase in the cost and sophistication of new systems is not matched by an equivalent increase in overall system reliability.

Bugs and glitches in software packages drive airlines up the wall. In-house repair requires the acquisition of expensive testing equipment. Without it, airlines must rely on OEMs and third-party repair shops to keep their equipment healthy. The "partnering" trend between OEMs and component manufacturers can leave airlines with little choice in their selection of vendors, reducing their clout with those vendors. And maintenance departments are finding that they must train a whole new breed of mechanic to deal with today's computerized cockpits.

At heart, airlines appear to be questioning some of the most basic assumptions about the value of much of this equipment. "The big boys have been surprised by the change in attitude," said Hapag-Lloyd Managing Director Wolfgang Kurth. "It is not exactly a back-to-the-roots movement but some realize that technology is not what provides the payoff to airlines--it is money. In some cases, technology is not well-thought through and the airlines become the proving ground."

Stuart John, Cathay Pacific's engineering director, quite agrees. Relating his ultimately futile battle to keep an analog cockpit in the 747-400, John argues that digital avionics in a mixed fleet "gives you not one pound of payload-range. They are pretty useless things you've spent all that money on. It is important to keep your feet on the ground, an eye on the value of some of these things. You don't want to lash out all that money for mods or updating technology. You've got to be careful you're not in with the technical snobs--technical for technical's sakes. And aviation is probably the worst of all for technical snobs. …

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