Harris signed an agreement with telecommunications provider SITA for its Data Comm Integration Services (DCIS) program.
Under the new agreement, SITA will sell Harris the software and systems required to deploy a new Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System Voice Data Link (ACARS/VDL) network for FAA communications with commercial aircraft.
In August, FAA signed an amendment to the DCIS contract with Harris extending it to cover the Data Comm Network Service (DCNS) component, providing the transition from analog voice communications to digital data connectivity for air traffic controllers under a 7-year, $150 million contract. On Tuesday, SITA announced an alternative arrangement to that contract.
DCNS will provide high frequency data links connecting ground-based air traffic controllers with airborne flight crews, upgrading from traditional voice communications to data communications regarding departure clearances, weather and other air traffic information.
"The FAA's assumption on awarding the DCIS contract was that Harris would establish the DCNS component by signing subcontracts with ARINC and SITA to use each provider's ACARS/VDL network for FAA communications with the respective user aircraft," said Philip Clinch, vice president of SITA, in a statement to Avionics Magazine.
"SITA's announcement today is that we and Harris have agreed an alternate arrangement. Instead of SITA selling the use of our ACARS/VDL network via Harris to the FAA we are selling Harris software and systems enabling Harris to deploy a new ACARS/VDL network designed to meet the FAA DCNS requirements," Clinch added.
SITA has estimated that moving air traffic controllers from voice to data communications has the ability to increase airspace capacity by 11 percent in Europe, and Harris will be looking for similar results in the United States.
Clinch said Harris has also likely signed a DCNS subcontract with ARINC "as was originally envisaged by the FAA," providing the agency the use of the ARINC network to communicate with commercial aircraft.
The new voice data link network will be deployed in phases, with Harris eventually replacing existing ground stations throughout the United States with stations that are equipped to provide ACARS/VDL communications.
Related: Air Traffic Management News