Until recently, if the aerospace electronic equipment is designed once, and the design was assumed to be static, producible and maintainable for the lifetime of the airframe, which was, and still is, often several decades. Furthermore, the aerospace-oriented culture that pervaded the avionics equipment industry, allowed each equipment design to be optimized independently, with little regard for commonality, modularity, reuse, scalability, or extensibility to other applications. Provisions for design and production changes were minimal or nonexistent and suppliers focused on producing spares, rather than developing more competitive products. This situation was abetted by the lack of any significant competition and the long-term availability of military grade electronic components.

As a result, military and commercial aerospace electronic design, manufacturing, procurement, operation, maintenance, and support decisions have been based on two assumptions:

  1. The supply of electronic components specified to operate in aerospace environments is unlimited
  2. Component designs will remain stable for long periods of time.

The above assumptions are no longer true.

The life cycles of all integrated circuit technologies are shrinking, almost to the point where the term component technology life cycle is meaningless. Even “stable” component designs are modified constantly to reduce cost, improve yields, and enhance performance. The modifications are evaluated and characterized for high volume applications, such as computers, but the applications of low volume users such as aerospace are rarely considered.

In the global market, the time between introductions of successive iterations of commercial components is decreasing.

Furthermore, while the military system assured that components with the same part number would have identical specifications regardless of who manufactured them; this is not true of non-military components. This impacts both new equipment designs and component replacements in existing equipment.

Until recently, the U.S. military specification system controlled the components used in commercial and military aircraft to ensure availability and design stability. However, the markets for semiconductor devices are now dominated by the computer, telecommunications, and consumer electronics industries, which together purchases about 96 percent of all available electronic components. In contrast, military and commercial aerospace industry purchases declined to about 0.3 percent, and these industries no longer have dedicated sources of components.

Relative to the total electronic components market, the percentage market share held by military electronic components segment is shrinking to the point of disappearance.

The ongoing revolution in the electronics industry has created a significant challenge for the aerospace industry. Manufacturers of aerospace electronic components such as integrated circuits, diodes, resistors, and transistors are leaving the aerospace market to pursue the rapidly expanding high-volume markets such as computer, consumer electronics, and telecommunications markets.

The pullout of many of the leading component manufacturers from the military market has had mixed effects on the aerospace industry.

Due to demands for new product offerings by high-volume markets and the high wafer fabrication capacity costs, the introduction of a new product usually coincides with the discontinuance of an older one. Unfortunately, the high-volume market product lifetimes are significantly shorter than those of most airplanes.

When military-grade components have become unavailable, in the aerospace industry, the equipment in which they were used often had to be redesigned at costs which ranged into tens of millions of dollars due to the high costs of parts, materials, and the regulatory process.

The obsolescence of electronic components is a serious challenge for the aerospace industry, and the severity of this problem is likely to increase in the near future.

Aerospace industry is developing new approaches for adapting to the changing electronics market and ensuring access to a supply of suitable components.