ATM Modernization, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

NextGen ATC Communications to Become VOIP Powered

By Woodrow Bellamy III | April 14, 2015
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[Avionics Today 04-14-2015] The National Voice System (NVS), a replacement of the legacy point-to-point connections used by Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) today, is on track for initial deployment in 2018, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Harris Corp. developed the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system to improve upon the air-to-ground and ground-to-ground voice functions that controllers current rely on to manage air traffic throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). 
FAA control tower overlooking the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where the NVS expected to achieve implementation by early 2016. Photo: Port of Seattle Image by Don Wilson. 
Controllers are currently using the legacy technology, which originally introduced different voice switching technologies at different ATC environments, including the Small Digital Voice Switch (SDVS) at the smallest towers in the NAS, and the Rapid Deployment Voice Switch (RDVS) that is used in Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities. NVS will bring some of the best features of these legacy voice-switching systems to all sites throughout the NAS, connecting controllers through the critical services portion of the FAA telecommunications infrastructure. 
“The FAA is starting to deal with obsolescence issues,” Jon Shedden, NATCA’s NVS represtentative, told Avionics Magazine. “For example, they’re unable to buy the parts required to support certain parts of that legacy technology. Existing voice switches in the NAS are more than 20 years old.”
One of the core components of the NVS technology is the Remote Radio Node (RRN), a drop-in replacement of the existing Remote Radio Control Equipment (RCE) that will provide the interface for a voice switch to communicate with distant radios. RRN is capable of connecting VOIP and non-VOIP radios directly to the NVS network. 
“The biggest benefits it will provide for controllers are we’re no longer relying on those direct connections,” said Shedden. “The legacy connection that voice switches are connected to today, the only way I can call facilities outside, I can ring their position in a traditional way, I dial their number and their position physically rings. That’s still based on old legacy technology. When we connect using VOIP I can now override or instantly be connected to any other NVS position in the NAS instantly. I can instantly be talking to that controller.”
Shedden said the VOIP-based NVS will not be directly connected through the Internet, but will use the secure connection provided by the FTI. According to the FAA, FTI provides consolidated telecommunication services for 30,000 circuits within the NAS using an enterprise-wide approach to information security. In January, the FAA issued a Request For Information (RFI), to identify potential approaches for addressing FAA enterprise communications requirements and to obtain industry insight regarding future telecommunications technologies and services such as NVS.
Last year, the Air Traffic User Group began to evaluate all available aspects of the NVS, including the Graphical User Interface (GUI), functionality and workstation hardware for the initial air traffic Early User Involvement Event (EUIE). A second EUIE is scheduled for the second quarter of 2016. 
NATCA has indicated initial deployment of the NVS at Seattle Center, the Seattle Tower, and Seattle TRACON in fiscal year 2018. 

“The work that we’re going to be focused on between now and then are tweaks and changes to our GUI, how we interact with the system, and we’re also looking at changes to the functionality,” said Shedden. “NATCA has to evaluate how we interact with it and the steps required to do the everyday controller responsibilities such as selecting and de-selecting radios and calling other controllers. We don’t want to make the controller busier than what they currently are by deploying something harder than what they use today.” 

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