To improve pilot assistance, Airbus is experimenting with new technologies

airbus and traffic cones on a runway

A350-1,000 test aircraft being used by Airbus UpNext, a fully owned subsidiary of Airbus, is being used to test innovative on-ground and in-flight pilot assistance systems.

The technologies being demonstrated, collectively referred to as “DragonFly,” include automated emergency divert in cruise, automatic landing, and taxi assistance. They are intended to assess the viability and applicability of further investigating autonomous flight systems in support of safer and more effective operations.

pilots operating airplane in cockpit during flight
Photo by Kelly on

“These tests are one of several steps in the methodical research of technologies to further enhance operations and improve safety. Inspired by biomimicry, the systems being tested have been designed to identify features in the landscape that enable an aircraft to “see” and safely manoeuver autonomously within its surroundings, in the same way that dragonflies are known to have the ability to recognise landmarks.”

Isabelle Lacaze, Head of DragonFly demonstrator, Airbus UpNext

The technologies for pilot assistance were able to assist pilots in-flight, managing a simulated incapacitated crew member event, and during landing and taxiing operations during the flight test campaign. The aircraft was able to generate a new flight trajectory plan and communicate with both Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the airline Operations Control Centre while taking into account external factors such as flight zones, terrain, and weather conditions.

Airbus UpNext has also investigated taxi assistance features, which were tested in real-time at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. The technology alerts the crew to obstacles, assists with speed control, and guides them to the runway using a dedicated airport map.

Aside from these capabilities, Airbus UpNext is launching a project to develop the next generation of computer vision-based algorithms to improve landing and taxi assistance.

Airbus subsidiaries and external partners such as Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Honeywell, Onera, and Thales collaborated to make these tests possible. The French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) partially funded DragonFly as part of the French Stimulus plan, which is part of the European Plan, Next Generation EU, and France 2030 plans.

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