[Avionics Magazine 04-14-2016] At the end of March, the FAA's Data Communications Implementation Team published a Controller Pilot Data Link Communication Departure Clearance Service (CPDLC-DCL) flight deck user guide to prepare pilots to use its new automated services at Tower Data Link Service-equipped facilities. Following the company’s announcement that it had successfully tested the DCL system in Louisville, Ky., Avionics Magazine caught up Universal Avionics Business Development Manager Carey Miller to learn how the new system works and its plans to keep up with the continued expansion of domestic CPDLC services in the National Airspace System (NAS) and Link 2000+ in Europe.
UPS aircraft landing at Louisville International Airport, where Universal Avionics completed its test of CPDLC DCL. Photo: Louisville International Airport.
During the recent Heli Expo 2016 tradeshow, Miller, who is also a pilot, carried out a test of the DCL system using Universal's Future Air Navigation System (FANS) solution on a Citation VII business jet. Universal's solution features its Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) Flight Management System (FMS), UniLink UL-800/801 Communications Management Unit (CMU) and a data-capable cockpit voice recorder. According to Miller, it can be a huge time saver for flight operations.
"It was a huge time saver because all you do is type the airport identifier for the airport that you are at into the FMS, log on, and the DCL system sees that you are logging on, and it sees that it has a clearance for you, and it sends you the departure clearance. It really is that fast and automates a lot of the voice communication normally required to do that. I timed it, and video taped it, and the total process took about 22 seconds," Miller said.
According to the FAA's new CPDLC DCL flight deck user guide, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) automation platform that supports DCL creates a proposed clearance for a controller to review. The controller can then modify that DCL with local data, such as a specific departure procedure, and then approve delivery of the DCL to the aircraft. In addition to the FMS, the airline or operator's Airline Operations Center (AOC) or flight dispatch service also receives a forwarded copy of the DCL.
If changes in tower or en route conditions occur due to weather or other reasons, ATC can send an amended clearance to the flight crew. When a cleared route is modified after the original DCL has been accepted, the new route modification includes one of three different types of loadable enroute waypoints, which are illustrated in the FAA's new CPDLC flight deck user guide.
Miller said the technology should prove to be extremely beneficial going forward, as more aircraft become equipped with CPDLC avionics and more flight crews become trained on how to use the system. As of April 1, 2016, a total of 1,542 aircraft in the NAS are properly equipped to use DCL.
"When you are at a busy airport, such as Teterboro at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and there’s 25 other airplanes that are trying to depart at the same time, everyone is calling in because there is only one clearance delivery frequency. When you finally get the controller, he or she gives you your full route clearance and then they go through that with every person. In those situations, you can be on the ground waiting to try to get clearance sometimes for 25 to 30 minutes. With DCL, you log on, you get your clearance and you call ground and say 'we’re ready to taxi.' It's a nice tool to have," said Miller.
By the end of 2016, the FAA has committed to implementing CPDLC DCL at 56 airports throughout the NAS. In 2019, the agency plans to expand the use of CPDLC to enroute airspace, effectively giving operators the same type of digital communications capabilities that are available today in oceanic airspace, such as the North Atlantic Track System (NATS).
The FAA has also indicated that its recommended DCL procedures guidance is supplemental to procedures recommended in the Global Operational Data Link (GOLD) document manual, which the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plans to publish in November.
Universal is looking to support the continued expansion of CPDLC in the U.S., as well as in Europe, with software updates.
"We are going to add Link 2000+ capability this year to support the data link requirement in Europe. So we already have a path for that. The enroute section will be coming on next and we will be adding functionality as required to support that as well through software updates," said Miller.