By Woodrow Bellamy III | June 29, 2017
In recent years, ALTYS Technologies has been one of the key players behind the scenes helping to ensure that the new ground and airborne technologies being deployed — to help airplanes reduce fuel burn, fly more efficient paths into airports and report their position in a modernized way — works, before it actually works.
The Toulouse, France-based test equipment supplier’s testing technology has been used to validate performance of new CPDLC ground stations, aircraft transmitters and airport infrastructure being deployed for the NextGen airspace modernization project in the U.S. and the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) project in Europe.
Avionics caught up with ALTYS CEO Alexandre Simonin to discuss the use of new digital communications technologies to support safety-critical applications by air navigation service providers and the areas of the SESAR and NextGen programs that have the biggest needs for new and evolving test equipment to support the implementation of new air, ground and space-based communications, navigation and surveillance and ATM capabilities.
Across all segments of the aviation industry, operators, airports and ANSPs are increasingly using new digital communications technologies for safety critical applications. Amid this trend, where have you seen the biggest demand for your digital communications test platforms over the last year?
We have seen a continued need for digital communications test systems, both from ground communications system operators as well as airborne system integrators. Given the growing use of VHF data link for safety-critical ATC applications as you mention, the performance of air and ground ATC systems has come under increased scrutiny. Through our work on the SESAR JU ELSA project, a number of performance issues have been observed, and through intensive testing, a list of “best-in-class” avionics configurations was defined.
We have also noticed a rising need among some of the major airlines for digital communications test systems. As more airlines are updating their avionics systems with the most recent data link systems, they require third-party test tools that ensure the integrated system is functioning properly following these retrofits.
SITAONAIR recently selected ALTYS to support advanced monitoring of its global VDL Mode 2 and ATN communications network. How is ALTYS adjusting to support this massive network, considering how many aircraft, airports and airlines depend on this crucial aviation infrastructure?
The deployment of our COSMOS monitoring solution for such an immense global communications network as that of SITAONAIR is an important step. To support the sheer quantity of data being processed — VDL Mode 2 and ATN communications data for the entire SITAONAIR network — we have modernized the full COSMOS architecture and installed a NoSQL database. We’ve also reinforced our data link and IT expertise through new collaborations with Big Data experts. As a result, the solution offers higher scalability for greater performance, and is ready to accommodate the largest and most demanding airspaces. Ultimately, the COSMOS system will be integrated within the SITA infrastructure for daily monitoring of both airline and ATC communications.
When you look at the FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s Single European Sky air transportation system modernization programs, where do you see the biggest need for new and evolving test equipment technologies within the deployment of both programs?
We see a continued need for solutions that are able to offer a highly realistic virtual test environment for both avionics equipment and ground infrastructures. ALTYS has been active in projects within both the U.S. and European ATM modernization programs, providing solutions that immerse avionics equipment into a near-operational environment by emulating a complex ground network as well as many other aircraft sending and receiving messages. In parallel, because only end-to-end performance matters, the community starts to understand the urgency for similar advanced testing for each and every segments of the chain, from the pilot in the cockpit down to the controller in charge. This type of system will soon be indispensable not only for VHF datalink, but for other media.
Secondly, there is a strong growing need for end-to-end validation of new satellite communications systems — both for airborne and ground-based components. Satellite communications are gaining importance within SESAR as well as in the U.S., as they will be a major enabler of numerous airspace optimization initiatives. For example, new technological concepts such as i4D (initial 4-dimension) operations would necessitate improving the existing VHF datalink system in order to provide greater capacity and reliability. However, in Europe, efforts are also underway to use Satcom to support i4D needs. In addition, Satcom will provide an important air-ground link to contribute to a future multi-link environment and support future communications networks such as ATN/IPS.
And lastly — ADS-B, which already started to play an essential role in ATM modernization programs, will soon be a requirement both in the U.S. and in Europe. ALTYS is ready for thorough and advanced ADS-B testing for most demanding environments, and has gained significant expertise in ADS-B over the past years through the development of our airport solution, SAGA.
ALTYS introduced a new mobile solution, "POCKET," for testing VHF-based data link functions. Do you see the use of such mobile test platforms as a growing trend in the industry? Are customers demanding similar test functionality and capability in mobile platforms?
POCKET was developed in response to an industry need for mobile test benches enabling aircraft OEMs, avionics integrators and airlines to support instant and multi-purpose testing. With its embedded multi-mode and multi-frequency radio, the unit provides similar testing capabilities as traditional test equipment, with more flexibility. POCKET is a versatile, lightweight and easy to transport, allowing our customers to use it at several different facilities, for different aircraft programs and different missions.
Thanks to its integration to the Cloud, the tool, when operated by an airline, greatly improves the cooperation between mechanics on the fields and engineers in charge of the fleet. By offering an integrated solution, POCKET increases productivity of involved staff, and helps organizations to achieve very substantial cost savings.
Over the next five to 10 years, where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth for test equipment products, solutions and technologies?
Satellite communications networks provide steadily increasing coverage worldwide, and as they become more and more affordable, their use will grow exponentially. At ALTYS, we expect to see a rise in Satcom systems testing to support this rapid growth. Similarly, the use of GBAS for precision approach at an increased number of airports — and not only major airports — will bring a need for in-depth testing and performance monitoring of these systems.
Additionally, the upcoming ADS-B mandates and the growing use of ADS-B for ATC surveillance systems will naturally bring a need for affordable testing solutions to ensure the performance, the accuracy and the reliability of these ADS-B Out transmitters. At ALTYS, we are prepared for these technological evolutions and we’re eager to bring to market the right solutions as these anticipated needs become a reality in coming years.