This project evaluated the current challenges posed by the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics items in aerospace vehicles.
With both the commercial and military segments of the aerospace market increasingly dependent on COTS components, sub-assemblies, and in some cases even systems, the aerospace industry needed consensus on methods to assure COTS based system safety and airworthiness in Airborne Electronic Equipment (AEE), or on criteria to assure that those methods are used properly in design, production or support. The project also addressed major characteristics of the COTS electronics market.
- The rapidity with which it changes
- The regular emergence of new issues that can affect AEE safety and airworthiness
RTCA DO-254A and DO-178C were developed in part to address some of these issues, but do not document specific methods or objective criteria for assurance of safety and airworthiness. While some agencies, e.g., the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), had recognized the need for additional guidance and were moving forward with possible solutions to be utilized by the global aviation industry. The industry needed to create a framework for COTS assurance by investigating COTS use in AEE, documenting safety and airworthiness assurance methods for equipment incorporating COTS-based AEE, and developing criteria for determining the effectiveness of those methods.
Due to the size of the task, and the limited resources available to perform it, the project was limited to the investigation of COTS electronic components; although it was acknowledged there was similar urgency in addressing other classes of COTS.
Participating members of the project identified issues related to COTS component usage in AEE design, production and support, and recommended new ways to improve aircraft certification methods specifically related to COTS components in modern aircraft. These methods provided input for candidate regulatory policies, standards, and procedures considered for implementation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Innovative approaches to design assurance including safety and security were considered.
The project was participant-driven. Both industry and regulatory participants provided the expertise needed to accomplish project objectives. Industry members identified current practices employed by the industry. The regulatory and the industry members identified possible COTS-related electronic component issues and possible solutions including suggested methods of design assurance for avionics application hardware.
Results were documented in the project reports and were included in a draft Airborne Electronic Hardware (AEE) Handbook for Airborne Systems. Work done in this project provided criteria and methods for more complete, cost-effective solutions for safety and airworthiness assurance and certification of systems containing COTS electronic components in AEE. The work also provided methods, processes, and criteria to verify compliance in the certification process.