Airbus has handed over the first completed cockpit upgrade for UPS Airlines’ fleet of 52 A300-600 Freighters. The aircraft (MSN868), revitalised with state-of-the-art Honeywell cockpit avionics, was redelivered to UPS on 3rd February at Airbus’ U.S. facility in Mobile Alabama following the certification by EASA on 22nd December 2020 and by the FAA on 5th January 2021. This is the first time that such a complex upgrade has been performed on the A300. UPS expects to have the entire fleet converted by peak season of 2022.
A valuable ‘facelift’
The enhancements transform the A300-600 cockpit to confer the maximum operational flexibility and capabilities – bringing it close to current generation of aircraft. Key to achieving this is the advanced new integrated avionics system supplied by Honeywell, which is based on its Primus Epic suite.
The four large 10x8 inch LCD main displays and the new colour multi-function control & display unit (MCDU), which replace several analogue instruments, are the most immediately visible changes to grace the A300-600’s upgraded instrument panel. Other new ‘under the hood’ items include: a new flight management system (FMS); support for a worldwide navigation database; a new multi-mode receiver (MMR) incorporating the latest GPS-based satellite navigation systems; a digital datalink for communications with air traffic control (ATC); a central maintenance computer; and a digital weather radar system with turbulence detection and windshear prediction – among numerous other capabilities.
The upgrade also provided the opportunity to integrate several enhanced safety and situational awareness functions. These include the latest Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), fully integrated traffic collision avoidance (TCAS) functions, a vertical situation display and a new GPS-based instrument approach capability which is a valuable aid for pilots when flying to airports that are not equipped with traditional radio-based ILS equipment.
Commenting on-site at the re-delivery milestone, Allen Fenske, Honeywell’s Senior Platform Director in the Airbus Customer Business Team highlighted some of the benefits which their new integrated systems will bring to UPS’ operation: “Our modern FMS with FANS capability will help give UPS aircraft priority with ATC controllers. And with the integrated MMR – which includes GPS and SBAS capabilities – UPS can fly into either ILS or non-ILS airports, and it also helps them to land in inclement weather.
From an architectural standpoint, the upgrade brings additional simplicity such that if a particular function needs to be upgraded or changed, then in most cases this only requires a circuit board to be quickly swapped-out from a central cabinet – rather than (as previously) having to remove all the other associated hardware. Overall, the upgrade will enable UPS to reliably operate and maintain the type until around 2035, and for these PW4000-powered A300-600Fs to seamlessly take advantage of current and future airspace requirements and evolving ATM infrastructures.
Fenske adds: “We have also modernised the maintenance system enabling UPS to download data from the aircraft wirelessly. This facilitates quick turnaround times. The new worldwide database can be updated in 10 minutes, compared to the tedious original system requiring manual load of several floppy discs of regional-only databases.”
Still young...and perfect for the job!
Ed Walton, Managing Director of Engineering at UPS Airlines said on the day of the handover: “These airplanes that we bought brand new from Airbus are still our babies. They are still young in terms of flight cycles, and therefore have a lot of useful life ahead of them. The A300 design has the perfect capacity for the U.S. domestic ‘express’ market; it’s a great airplane in terms of how it fits into our network. In terms of the overall strategy, the Airbus cockpit upgrade with the Honeywell avionics really allows us to continue using an asset and unlocking the most efficient operational capability.”
Walton notes: “It’s a beautiful airframe for us and it’s still a very efficient freighter. And for the pilots it greatly improves their situational awareness; while for the aircraft maintenance crew we have now transformed this airplane into the modern realm with its central maintenance computer which allows them much quicker troubleshooting.”
Airbus: Service provider and integrator
The retrofit programme commenced with Airbus being chosen to design the new integrated cockpit architecture for UPS’ A300s, and to manage the overall development project including flight-testing and certification. Airbus would also supply the service bulletins and kits to UPS, comprising both the new Honeywell avionics modules as well as Airbus’ own aircraft-specific wiring, cockpit panels and other structural elements. Also worth noting is that being the Type Certificate holder, Airbus provides the warranty and updated documentation with the upgrade.
Olivier Criou, VP Head of the A300/A310 Programme, and Chief Engineer, commented in Mobile: “I am proud that after 50 years since the launch of the A300 programme, the aircraft undergoes a fantastic refresh and reaches state-of-the-art functionality for UPS’ operation. Nevertheless, 50 years in aviation still makes us a relatively young company, and that pioneering spirit still inhabits the A300/A310 team and Airbus as a whole.”
Successful tripartite collaboration ensuring truly efficient long term usage
“It’s been a three and a half year journey,” recalls Honeywell’s Fenske. “I feel that with the Honeywell, Airbus and UPS teams we were very tight knit and collaborative. And with this delivery I can just imagine how excited UPS’ pilots are going to be. They have been flying in the original cockpit, and now they have our modern Primus Epic system with larger colour LCD displays, providing more information better integrated with room to adapt to the continually changing environment, (mandates and future capabilities).”
Airbus’ Criou concludes: “As a company, Airbus has always been committed to providing long-term support to our customers and this is true for our customer UPS and their A300-600F fleet. So we are honoured to have collaborated with them and with our supplier Honeywell, as well as what we have been able to achieve with the teams in Airbus. By answering UPS’ request for a new cockpit, even 13 years after the end of production for this programme, we are still there as their long-term Services Support partner to ensure their aircraft’s future operations.”