The Airbus aircraft is fly-by-wire – this system replaces conventional manual flight controls with an electronic interface. Electronic function is responsible for an increasingly large portion of in-flight functions.
As an explainer on electrical systems put it, in fact, “uninterrupted electrical power is essential to safe flight in a modern airplane.” From small luxuries to vital aspects of flight, electrical systems drive our airplanes today — and increasingly account for backup functionality as well, such that even with a failed engine, a plane can feasibly glide to safety with help from various electronic controls.
It is for these reasons that it’s so vital in today’s aircraft construction for electronic components to adhere to strict design standards. This is the case not only with larger systems or applications, but in fact for the very circuit boards at the heart of electronic functions as well.
An article about FAA certification standards for PCBs clarifies exactly how this works to keep electrical systems efficient and airplanes safe. The FAA aircraft certification standards “define all aspects of mechanical, electronic, and operator requirements on civilians aircraft.” With specific regard to electronics systems, the FAA requires assurances that a given system can “withstand power fluctuations, operate within steady-state tolerances, and manage thermal demands.” These demands speak to specific, technical specification requirements that must be met for any printed circuit board being used in an on-board electronics system — if the aircraft is to be declared airworthy.
This speaks to how vital it is for electrical engineers to adhere to FAA standards even now, as aircrafts are currently constructed. But moving forward into the future, it’s likely — if not certain — that electronics will be even more essential in air travel. Indeed, if we’re to believe the future of flight, we may not be too far from entirely electric aircraft (just as we’re making the same transition with cars). This would intensify the need for powerfully capable yet FAA-compliant electronic components. In fact, it could even result in new FAA standards altogether for circuit boards and broader electronic systems.
Even now though, meeting standards for electronic systems is a vital component of modern aircraft design that is overlooked all too often.