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A Deep Dive into Airborne Software & Hardware Development Requirements

Aviation systems development is one of the most heavily regulated activities in the world. Understandably so. Three key standards which regulate the development of aviation systems are DO-178C, DO-254, and AMC 20-152A. Developing software and hardware for airborne vehicles is no simple task. Thoroughly understanding the rules and regulations is the key to ensuring efficiency in achieving compliance. 

A Deep Dive into Airborne Software & Hardware Development Requirements

Aircraft and defense systems comprise many parts, including highly complex software and hardware components. Since many of these qualify as mission-critical applications whose faults can have deadly consequences for passengers and crew, avionics is a very heavily regulated industry. This means that in order for an aircraft to go to market, it must undergo a long certification process to be considered airworthy. There are safety requirements, anti-terrorism measures, as well as environmental standards to adhere to. Add to that the complexity of crossing national borders, using a vast number of suppliers, contractors even payment processors, and you have yourself an incredibly complex environment to create software and hardware. 


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Top 3 Trends Shaping the Aviation Industry in 2023 


DO-178C explained 

Do-178C (Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification) was published by RTCA and EUROCAE and is the most widely used approach for demonstrating the airworthiness of an avionics or aerospace system. So, using this standard to guide your design process is the main way to ensure that your airborne software development is producing an aircraft that is fit for flights – and for going to market internationally. 

DO-178C is based on a fundamental framework for defining Development Assurance Levels (DAL)- There are five levels, each one relating to the severity of what happens if the software fails, ranging from Level A, meaning catastrophic failure, to Level E meaning no effect on safety. The higher the risk, the more rigorous the certification process is and the more safety standards you need to comply with. The standard also describes the required stages for planning, development, and implementation regarding the safe design assurance process for delivering high-quality avionic software.

DO-254 explained  

Meet DO-178C's “Little Sibling” standard, also known as the DO-254 (Design Assurance for Airborne Electronic Hardware). It’s the go-to guideline for manufacturing airborne electronic hardware. Although it is often considered the ‘Little Sibling” counterpart to DO-178C, it is no less complex and equally important. 

The standard kicks off with a classification system that allows you to separate electronic hardware items into simple or complex categories and then provides systematic design guidelines for both. DO-254 is similar again to DO-178C in that it used a Design Assurance Level (DAL) framework as well. The levels range from A to E, with E being the least impactful. The efforts needed in order to achieve compliance scale along with the amount of damage a hardware failure can cause. 


Related webinar 

Avionics Hardware Development: Introduction to DO-254 and AMC 20-152A 


AMC 20-152A explained 

AMC 20-152A (Development Assurance for Airborne Electronic Hardware) was released by EASA and it focuses on providing new compliance objectives, offering development teams flexibility to determine the activities to meet these objectives. AMC 20-152A clarifies and supplements DO-254 for state-of-the-art avionics hardware. This guidance provides new objectives that enable a broader range of COTS components to be used in avionics applications provided the potential impact on the application is mitigated.

AMC 20-152A clarifies expectations for CBA development – technology that pre-dated the original hardware standard. It provides explicit guidance for documenting CBA requirements and validation flows from the overall system to supporting hardware. This helps ensure the consistency of airborne hardware.

Learn more about meeting these requirements by downloading our eBook! 

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