Success Stories – Thales Canada Inc.

The Company

Thales Canada Inc. (TCI) is a Canadian corporation and a wholly‑owned subsidiary of Thales S.A. Paris, France, a leading international electronic and systems company, servicing defence, aerospace, security, and ground transportation markets worldwide; anywhere technologies can support improved safety and security in critical environments. Thales S.A.'s multi‑national operations are located in 56 countries and are supported by over 65,000 employees worldwide. Thales Canada is currently the 8th largest country operation and has grown from two employees originally located in Halifax in 1972 to over 1,200 personnel located in six different sites across the country including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal (location of SADI project activities), Vancouver, Quebec City and Kingston/Petawawa. Operations in Canada are delivered across three business domains, (i) Avionics/Aerospace (ii) Transportation Solutions and (iii) Defence and Security, with combined annual revenues of $500 million.

The Project

The SADI Fly‑by‑Wire project was a four year (2010 to 2013) $33.5 million initiative that supported research and development activities with the objective of designing, integrating, testing and commercializing an enhanced fully electrical Fly‑by‑Wire flight control system adaptable to a broad range of small to mid‑size regional and business jet platforms. In the past, Fly‑by‑Wire systems were primarily reserved for large transport aircraft; the SADI project has allowed Thales Canada to capitalize on its expertise and position itself to deliver a Fly‑by‑Wire control system that is lighter, more compact, simpler to operate and ultimately more reliable than the hydro‑mechanical flight control systems of the past.

More specifically, to achieve this success, the project developed and incorporated new technologies in five technical domains including computer system architecture, data buses, electronic controls, cockpit sensors and actuation technologies. The outcome of this work will allow Thales to meet the unique and demanding performance requirements of business and regional jets, where Fly‑by‑Wire systems will increasingly become the norm.

The SADI support was beneficial in assisting Thales operations in Canada receive the mandate to further develop this technology; this project has allowed us to take on the challenge of designing the system architecture from our own set of requirements, from the ground up, to meet the significant performance improvements required and deliver technologies that are ahead of the competitors.

Marc‑André Talbot, Director Engineering, R&D, Thales Canada, Avionics

Results

As a result of the SADI project work, Thales Canada Avionics developed several key technologies/products which support and further enhance the Fly‑by‑Wire flight control system including (i) flight control computer (enhanced modular architecture, lighter, more compact, faster processing power); (ii) bi‑directional 429 data bus (rugged, solid and light, can transfer data and necessary electronic signals to the wings of the aircraft more efficiently; (iii) Back‑up Flight Control Unit; (improved monitoring and back‑up functionality).

These technologies offer leading‑edge innovation to the avionics industry. Most notable is the fact that for the first time Thales can deliver (i) modular architecture to allow for the operation on a common platform thus making it adaptable and scaleable to a suite of aircrafts of different sizes, structures and characteristics; (ii) enhanced safety and reliability of the flight control system through improved monitoring and back‑up systems; (iii) improved functionality (faster response time between command and execution, expanded memory capacity, improved pilot controls) and (iv) minimized weight and size. These innovations support optimization of the aircraft speed and altitude despite adverse weather conditions, a safer more reliable aircraft and a cockpit with reduced pilot workload. This ultimately results in a smoother flight for passengers and a more efficient aircraft with reduced maintenance costs.

Thales Canada has achieved this success by creating and sharing mutual benefits of collaboration with Quebec‑based universities and research institutions. During the SADI project, Thales Canada worked closely with three Quebec‑based universities (both with professors and graduate students) and a research consortium for a total research contribution exceeding $690,000. Collaborators included École Polytechnique de Montréal, McGill University, École de Technologie Supérieure and Consortium de Recherche et Innovation en Aérospatiale au Québec (CRIAQ). These partnerships were beneficial in allowing Thales Canada to address the technology gap within their own skill set as well as draw on the extensive leading edge expertise available within the institutions.

Thales Canada also engaged over 44 paid interns from Quebec universities to support the SADI project work. The students bring energy and new ideas to the research project while at the same time making valuable contributions to the project activities and gaining beneficial industrial experience in a real‑world environment. Twelve of these students were subsequently hired on a full‑time basis to support Thales' on‑going work in this area.

Thales-designed flight control computers will be installed on the recently unveiled Gulfstream G500 and G600 aircraft

Thales-designed flight control computers will be installed on the recently unveiled Gulfstream G500 and G600 aircraft

As a result of the SADI project, Thales Canada now has a competitive advantage as it is one of the first to market (for the business and jet sector) with a highly adaptable, compact, reliable and safer Fly‑By‑Wire flight control system. Commercial success has followed with Thales Canada being selected (October 2014) to design and manufacture the advanced flight control computers for the recently unveiled Gulfstream G500 and G600 aircraft programs. Gulfstream will use Thales Canada's latest design evolution architecture, specifically developed to ensure superior performance and safety whilst reducing weight and therefore fuel consumption. In addition, a sub‑component of Thales Canada's advanced Fly‑By‑Wire flight control systems called the spoiler control system was recently selected by Bombardier's new Learjet‑85 program, further validating Thales Canada's market‑leading position.

Other broader benefits that could result from the SADI project include improved energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact. The Fly‑by‑Wire system contributes to reducing the aircraft weight, reducing aircraft life cycle costs (less maintenance compared to mechanical flight controls) and ultimately optimizing its performance. As such, a lighter aircraft and reduced drag will result in less fuel consumption, thus providing environmental and energy benefits.

In Summary

Overall, the SADI project support has assisted Thales Canada to compete in a timely manner with market leading technologies while delivering operational efficiencies and enhanced safety to the aviation industry. Thales Canada's Montreal facilities are also recognized as the "centre of excellence for flight system controls" for Thales' entire global operations and they have been recognized as a finalist in the 2014 Thales Innovation Awards. As such, the work undertaken as part of the SADI project further solidified their expertise and credibility in this area, has grown their R&D team from 10 to 50 professionals and has subsequently led to solid financial performance as they begin to fully exploit the growing market potential for Fly‑by‑Wire control systems in the business and regional jet market.

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