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I am wondering which companies develop software for systems on airplanes?

I am a software engineer major and I would love to work with planes in some way. I am not sure if that would be more of an electrical engineering position or not, any input would be greatly appreciated.

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This entire branch is known as avionics (aviation electronics). Limited work is generally done by the aircraft producers themselves, and the majority is subcontracted to specialist companies. A name which does come to mind is Thales group, who are behind much of the Airbus A380 avionics. Other ones are Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and Garmin. These are however though often at the top of an iceberg of various subsystems and controls.

g1000

A huge increase in this field (particularly in small aircraft but now also coming to larger ones) has been in tablet computers and the like in the past few years, and while I'm not a pilot I think it's hardly at the limit of what is possible. An iPad has more processing power than most if not virtually all aircraft flying today. Many customers today are disappointed if they don't get WiFi and inflight entertainment onboard.

With the increase in drones and unmanned aircraft, it's certainly not a shrinking field. A large area of this includes complex calculations and plenty of sensors. And more drones and unmanned aircraft require advanced communication and control systems. I've even heard about dynamic models of aircraft who adapt the plane's control to maintain control in the event of structural failure or serious damage. Only having scratched the field personally it's a very broad field with plenty.

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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention military applications (missile control, targeting software, etc.). I'm fairly sure that the big airplane companies like Boeing and Airbus do a fair amount of their own programming as well even though they use a lot of prefabricated components. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 20 '14 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ An iPad has more processing power than most if not virtually all aircraft flying today. I assume that you are talking only about GA? Military and commercial craft have far more processing power, not to mention reliability and quality. $\endgroup$ – Simon Jun 4 '16 at 14:58
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As Manfred mentioned, there are quite a number of companies that develop systems for aircraft, all with a software component to it. Whether it is something for you depends a lot on your expertise as a software engineer. Are you doing embedded programming then avionics might be a possibility for you. But you have to realize it is kind of a specialized field that is very strict in its procedures for safety reasons. If you enjoy rapid development processes and see quick improvements you are destined to become very frustrated in the avionics world. It is not a job I would recommend to everyone.

That being said, there are plenty of other software jobs related to aviation. Airports, Air Traffic Control, airlines, maintenance organizations all run dedicated software to support their processes. I did quite some programming in the past for Air Traffic Control related simulations. Nothing safety critical, the focus was on validating new ideas, which in my view was much more fun than working on operational (safety critical) systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't recommend ATC software development over Avionics if you want to avoid strict procedures... but there are certainly some very interesting modelling and experimental/concept things going on around both avionics and ATC, if you don't want to create the actual "make the plane fly" avionics or "stop the planes crashin" ATC software $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Nov 25 '14 at 12:40
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GE Aviation develops some avionics in addition to engines and other systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are (were) you linked to that company? If so, please disclose it. $\endgroup$ – Federico Feb 8 '19 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ They had a location near where I used to live. I am not a shareholder and have never worked there. $\endgroup$ – jle Feb 8 '19 at 16:46

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