[Avionics Today July 10, 2014] Canada has completed its nationwide implementation of Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), according to the country's Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) NAV Canada. This marks largest domestic implementation of this technology to date, as European airspace currently features the technology and the United States is still in the trial phase with it under its NextGen project.
A CPDLC transmission on an Air Traffic Controller's screen. Photo, courtesy of NAV Canada.
CPDLC enables data communications between Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) in Canadian Area Control Centers (ACC) and pilots flying properly equipped aircraft above 29,000 feet. One of the biggest benefits of CPDLC is that it gives ATCs the capability of sending text and data messages directly to the flight deck.
ATCs using CPDLC can send email-like digital communications such as flight plans, departure clearances and route information directly to the aircraft's data communications receiver. Once the pilot confirms receipt of the data, the instructions can be loaded directly into the aircraft's Flight Management System (FMS).
“Miscommunication is a common air safety issue, but there is much less chance of error when both the flight crew and the controller have the ability to communicate using standardized text messaging,” said Rudy Kellar, executive vice president of service delivery at NAV Canada.
Another benefit for pilots and controllers with CPDLC is the elimination of the need for pilots and controllers reading instructions back to each other, which could help reduce delays. There are about 10-12,000 total flights per day throughout Canadian airspace, and nearly 3,000 per day above 29,000 feet. As those numbers continue to grow, radio frequency congestion can become an issue for voice communications.
Despite the numerous enhancements of CPDLC, at least one Canadian airline does not see the need to begin using it yet. WestJet, a Canadian low cost carrier based in Calgary, currently has data communications receivers installed on just three of its in-service 737-700s, less than three percent of its commercial fleet. The airline will not be making investments in CPDLC any time soon.
"For WestJet, it would be difficult to make a strong business case for us to equip our entire fleet of more than 100 Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft with CPDLC capabilities at the present time. We will continue to monitor domestic airspace congestion and its impact on our operation, with a view toward considering deploying CPDLC technology at some point in the future," a source for WestJet told Avionics Magazine in an emailed statement.
Although CPDLC is a low priority for WestJet, most of the major international carriers flying in Canadian airspace do have aircraft equipped with CPDLC. Just in the past month, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, KLM Airlines and Korean Air have all used the technology to communicate with Canadian ATCs, according to Nav Canada.
The Canadian ASNP also said that there has been an increase from just over 7,000 messages in September 2012 to 76,000 in May 2014.
“The NAV CANADA rollout of CPDLC represents one of the first and certainly the largest domestic implementation in the world to date,” said Kellar.