DO-278 Facts & Free DO-278A Whitepaper at

23 Aug
DO-278A excerpt via

DO-278A excerpt via

DO-278A is often referred to as “DO-178’s little brother, for ground systems.”  However, is DO-278A a little brother or more of a big sister?  Let’s see …

DO-278A is properly titled “GUIDELINES FOR COMMUNICATION, NAVIGATION, SURVEILLANCE, AND AIR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT (CNS/ATM) SYSTEMS SOFTWARE INTEGRITY ASSURANCE.”   The operative term here is “CNS/ATM, which again means ground-based aviation software involved with “Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management.”  With such a long title, it’s a sure bet that DO-278A is NOT merely a little brother to DO-178C.  In fact, DO-278 was updated to DO-278A via the RTCA SC-205 committee and released in December of 2011.  As any true student of history knows, it is not the absolute date of events which is important, but rather the context of what was occurring simultaneously elsewhere in the world which matters.  In the case of RTCA SC-205, it is imperative to understand that DO-178B was being updated simultaneously which yielded DO-178C released late, but soon thereafter.

As with airborne software (software which either executes onboard an aircraft, or directly influences the execution of such software), CNS/ATM can obviously affect aviation safety.  In fact, many facets of Communication, Navigation, Surveillance, and Air Traffic Management impact safety because a single error could have dire repercussions.  As a result, it is imperative that CNS/ATM be subjected to a process which has the following provable attributes: (See full DO-278A whitepaper for graphics – not reprintable in this text-only blog).

Voilà: DO-278A is here.

What exactly is DO-278A then?  DO-278A is the second version of the baseline DO-278 document.  It’s a corollary to DO-178C, which is a similar standard for airborne software safety, e.g. software that typically executes onboard aircraft which contributes to flight safety.  If you already understand DO-178C, then you have the benefit of implicitly knowing 70% – 80% of DO-278A because they are similar; numerous aspects are identical including tool qualification for which the corresponding tool qualification guidance, DO-330, applies to both the latest versions: DO-178C and DO-278A.  Also, understanding that DO-278A and DO-178C are similar means you can readily tap into the much larger literature base of DO-178C, as there is relatively little published literature on DO-278A.  However, there is a disadvantage in being familiar with DO-178C and wanting to understand DO-278A: human nature “glosses over” subtle differences between them which results in significant misunderstandings and mistakes when applying DO-278A.  The information herein will both describe DO-278A for beginners and also illuminate differences with DO-178C.

DO-278A is a strong guideline comprising both recommendations and assessable objectives. It is intended for use in developing ground-based systems (containing software) which are involved with aircraft operations. These ground-based systems almost always make heavy use of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) technologies including hardware and software. The ground-based systems governed by DO-278A often have much larger, and more diverse, software components than their airborne avionic counterparts. Thus the size, diversity, and increased reliance upon COTS technology all play a key role in the need for DO-278A and the difference between DO-278A and DO-178C.

From DO-278A’s title, it’s easy to discern its primary focus as systems involved with communications, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management.  But is that all?  No, and that’s why DO-278A is informally referred to as the aviation standard for ground-based systems.  What additional application domains might be subjected to DO-278A guidance?

  • UAS ground controllers/stations (e.g. pilot stations)
  • GPS equipment on the ground when in the airplane control realm
  • Ground-based transceivers

For Full DO-278A whitepaper, or DO-278A onsite training information, see and request.

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