[Avionics Today 01-09-2014] As the skies are becoming ever more crowded, regulatory authorities, such as the FAA and the EASA, continue to implement new rules and regulations aimed at making air travel safer and more efficient. Most of these mandates look to enhance communication and aircraft tracking, something that will become key going forward, according to Tom Dooling, sales manager at Honeywell Aerospace.
|A maintenance tech inspects an aircraft. Photo: Boeing
“Most of the upcoming mandates are pretty much around keeping track of airplanes, whether as a pilot keeping track of other airplanes or as a controller on the ground keeping track of airplanes in the airspace over the ocean or over land,” Dooling told Avionics Magazine.
Regardless of how helpful equipage may be, many mandates are met with reluctance to comply from all manner of operators and owners who are understandably hesitant to put forth the money necessary to install software and systems — as well as the downtime required for maintenance. This is especially true in the face of shifting compliance deadlines and requirements. Here, we lay out the basics of four upcoming mandates as well as some advice from our expert.
1) Future Air Navigation System 1/A
Originally, the Future Air Navigation System was a concept developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and aerospace industry partners aimed at reducing aircraft lateral separation minimums and allowing more aircraft to fly in a given volume of airspace. Currently, FANS is used mostly in oceanic regions where satellite communication and navigation can create a virtual radar environment for aircraft, primarily in the North Atlantic Track System (NATS).
Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) have established FANS designated routes throughout the NATS to determine the most efficient routes for equipped aircraft, currently confined to 36,000 feet through 39,000 feet, according to a Honeywell review of aviation mandates. These routes will expand to 35,000 feet through 39,000 feet beginning in 2015 and all airspace above 29,000 in 2020, the review states. For the most part these mandates affect commercial air transport operators; however, outside of that category there can be some issues.
“The equipage for new air transport aircraft is already there. Right now the operators that are facing challenges are those aircraft that operate currently over the North Atlantic Track, such as a bizjet. A Gulfstream 550, for example, will fly above the tracks, so they’re not impacted by it because they’re not mixing into the air transport traffic. Even some of the new aircraft, like the 787s, can fly above the tracks, so the altitude helps them quite a bit,” said Dooling. “But sooner or later they’ll all need to be equipped because, as the mandate rolls along, they’re going to change those tracks to include all altitudes and all of the standard North Atlantic Tracks.”
2) Protected Mode Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (PM-CPDLC)
CPDLC is a communication system similar to text messaging that allows pilots and Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) to send pre-set data messages. As part of the Single European Sky initiative, the European Commission (EC) originally announced a PM-CPDLC avionics mandate for retrofit aircraft flying above 28,500 feet in European airspace by Feb. 5, 2015. A number of unforeseen technical and economic challenges have forced the EC to discuss more likely possibility of delaying that mandate by five years; an official announcement is expected later this month.
CPDLC is starting out on the FANS routes but, Dooling explains, there are still some technological and infrastructure issues associated with the technology. “The ground stations aren’t there, there are technical issues as far as interference [and] some frequency congestion. Some of the testing the providers have done have not proven out to be as robust as they would like it to be,” he said.
But despite the current issues, Dooling believes most aircraft will eventually be PM-CPDLC equipped. “Somewhere in the future CPDLC will be the primary communication between aircraft and controllers. Everybody will be expected to equip,” he added.
3) Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II 7.1
TCAS was designed to reduce collisions between airborne aircraft by monitoring the airspace around it for others equipped with transponders without the need to interact with Air Traffic Control (ATC). While many of the upcoming mandates are plagued with problems, the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II 7.1 mandate, which updates the system to reduce collisions even further, allows for a relatively easy solution.
“The TCAS 7.1 mandate in Europe includes a couple of enhancements done with a software update, so it’s fairly easy to do. For some of the earlier TCAS it’s a box swap, a plug-and-play replacement of the early boxes. So, either way, it’s fairly easy to do and it doesn’t really impact other parts of your aircraft avionics system,” said Dooling.
The European Commission’s TCAS II 7.1 mandate schedule calls for retrofit implementation by December 2015.
4) Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out to DO-260B
ADS-B enables easier and more complete aircraft tracking as the transmitter broadcasts information about an aircraft every second in parameters that include identification, current position, altitude and velocity. As ATC gathers more information via the ADS-B transmitter, pilots benefit in several ways, such as improved timing and aircraft spacing. But as the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline for compliance in the United States and Europe nears, operators remain reluctant to equip for several reasons.
“ADS-B Out requirements have been somewhat of a moving target — that’s why people have not been equipping quite as quickly,” said Dooling, noting that the technology for ADS-B has been around for quite some time, but uncertainty in the regulatory world has made it difficult for operators to wrap their heads around it. “But I think things have settled down. They’ve just moved the European mandate out to align with the FAA mandate, which is sometime in 2020. I think they’re pretty serious about it now and they will have the ground infrastructure in place by the 2020 timeframe.”
But while the infrastructure and advantages may be in place, regulatory authorities still have to be sure that operators know what they’re getting into. To remedy this, the FAA recently put together a working group to help smooth out the questions surrounding ADS-B mandate compliance. However, the complexity of compliance is still a huge factor for larger, more integrated cockpits.
“ADS-B Out is not just about putting a box on the airplane,” said Dooling. “It touches a number of components. You have your transponder that has to be upgraded to do it. You also may have to upgrade your GPS, which may need to be SA-aware — which is basically just a more accurate GPS. You may need to include parameters from your FMS. It may impact controllers if they haven’t updated their radio suite.”
While ADS-B equipage isn’t coming due in 2015, it’s still important for operators to think about compliance as soon as possible in order to avoid hefty prices and long waits when the mandate draws near and operators rush to comply.
“The key thing, I would say in big, bold letters, is don’t wait. If you wait you’re going to have to get in line and people are going to charge you a premium,” said Dooling. “If you equip early you’re probably going to be able to schedule it much more efficiently.”