by John McHale
KANATA, Ontario — Leaders of rugged computer maker Dy 4 Systems are trying to bring their company's expertise in high-reliability subsystems to bear on commercial aviation applications— especially where the new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hardware safety standard RTCA DO-254 is concerned.
Avionics experts at Dy 4, the Kanata, Ontario-based defense and aerospace division of Force Computers, say they see many new opportunities for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics on civil aircraft ranging from large jetliners such as Boeing 747s all the way down to single-engine general-aviation aircraft.
Dy 4 experts chiefly are looking at retrofit of existing systems, new platforms, and new equipment, says Duncan Young, director of marketing for Dy 4, who says his company first will target the larger applications.
"The role of COTS in the civil avionics market has been limited mostly to the component level," Young says. The main arguments against the use of COTS have been proof of safety and obsolescence issues, he adds. Yet COTS often means different things to different people, Young points out.
People in the commercial-aviation industry often refer to COTS as components that are not military qualified, Young says. Currently, many COTS single-board computers in the civil aviation electronics business are proprietary products of such companies as Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, and BAE Systems, he continues.
The civil aviation market is too small to continue along a proprietary line, Young says. Instead, he suggests that open hardware architectures can mitigate obsolescence. Like the military market before it, civil aviation must adapt to economic conditions, Young says.
Companies like Dy 4 have a proven track record of dealing with the life cycle issues of COTS components for high-reliability applications, he adds.
RTCA/DO-254, a new safety certification from the FAA, was released in April 2000 to address the safety requirements of electronic hardware components.
RTCA Inc., the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics in Washington, is a private, not-for-profit corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations regarding communications, navigation, surveillance, and air-traffic management system issues.
FAA leaders use RTCA recommendations as the basis for policy, program, and regulatory decisions. Executives in private industry also use RTCA recommendations as the basis for development, investment, and other business decisions.
The military does not require compliance with DO-254 or its software counterpart RTCA/DO-178B, Young says. However, military prime contractors will find that complying with DO-178B and DO-254 is important because of increasing numbers of military aircraft that fly over civil population centers, and the growing use of military avionics subsystems in commercial aircraft, he adds.
DO-254 extensive airworthiness certification and documentation of hardware — thousands of documents detailing the airworthiness, reliability, and safety of every electronic hardware component of commercial and military aircraft, he explains.
Safety certification is an expensive and time-consuming process, but well worth the effort, Young says, because it can ensure safety and efficient manufacturing.
DO-254 like DO-178B recognizes that different applications and systems have different potential for failure and has five levels (A through E) that have been defined for the effort required to show certification compliance in accordance with the different hazard classifications, Young says.
The standard has a sliding scale; Level A, the most safety-critical, requires the most scrutiny, while Level E, the least critical, requires the least scrutiny. Dy 4's first DO-254-certified product will be a 3U CompactPCI device, Young says.
For more information on Dy 4's civil avionics initiative contact Duncan Young by phone at 613-599-9199, ext. 5298, or on the World Wide Web at http:// www.dy4.com.