Business & GA, Commercial

FANS Exec Q&A With TrueNorth CEO Mark van Berkel

By Woodrow Bellamy III | May 4, 2015
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[Avionics Today 05-04-2015] TrueNorth Avionics recently announced that it has achieved the first FAA Technical Standard Order (TSO) C-159A with its SimphonÄ“ Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS-1/A+) capable Data Link Unit (DLU). The Canadian manufacturer first paved the way for development of the DLU with the introduction of its Iridium-based Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) interface in 2007. At the time there was no TSO for FANS over Iridium (FOI), which was first TSO’d by the FAA in 2010 with TSO C-159A. 
Photo: TrueNorth Avionics.
According to a 2014 Universal Avionics white paper, FANS provides a means for the exchange of messages between pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC) using data link technology, and has been in use in the North Atlantic airspace for more than 30 years. Originally, Boeing introduced it as FANS 1, and then Airbus as FANS A, as a cost savings feature for data communications within oceanic airspace. More recently though, the technology is being established within continental airspace as a supplement to Very High Frequency (VHF) voice communications channels between pilots and controllers because these channels are becoming increasingly congested as air traffic continues to increase. 

Avionics Magazine caught up with TrueNorth CEO Mark van Berkel to discuss the TSO, and how it can streamline the process of obtaining additional Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs).  

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: Although there are other FANS 1/A solutions available right now, your news release mentions TrueNorth is the first to offer a FOI FANS-1/A compliant system with TSO-C159A certification, can you explain what differentiates your solution from others?

van Berkel: We are the first manufacturer to get the TSO-C159A. Our DLU started off as an ACARS product; we’ve actually been building this same product for seven years. It started as an ACARS interface, which is just the automatic information system that goes to the aircraft. When we built the unit there was no TSO out, but we anticipated that there may be a TSO coming out. So we designed it to be as simple as possible, we kept the interfaces simple for the aircraft. Plug it in, connect it up to the aircraft maintenance computer, the CMC on the aircraft, and select high or low speed 429 bus and that’s it, there are no other setups screens, no configuration to do or anything, the efficiency of our software and the efficiency of the system has made it easier to get certified.  

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: What makes this a more simplified FANS installation on a legacy airframe?

van Berkel: We’re not using open source software or Commercial off-the-Shelf (COTS) software, which can makes it much harder to get through the software certification process. Regulators want to ensure that your aircraft’s message exchange process is going to work and the pilot and the air traffic controller are guaranteed to receive the messages when they need to. 

We’ve really kept it simple, the system looks like an ARINC 741 satellite data unit to the aircraft, so that means increased compatibility; there’s less reconfiguration to do on the airplane to get it to work properly.

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: What category of aircraft are you targeting with this DLU?

van Berkel: Business jets and large commercial air transport airplanes — anyone that needs to fly those FANS routes, especially for aircraft flying the routes over the North Atlantic. One of the things too that a lot of people may or may not know is that FANS is actually ADS-C. There’s a lot of talk about ADS-B in the United States with the 2020 mandate, but ADS-C is what FANS actually is. It provides the ability for anyone flying oceanic routes, or in areas where ADS-C is required; that’s the target market for our DLU. It’s not really a small aircraft product at all. 

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: What is the significance of using FANS over Iridium in the modern flight environment?

van Berkel: FANS is ADS-C. Traditionally that has been done over Inmarsat. Iridium recently has introduced the ability to do all the FANS messages. They’ve been certified to do those ADS-C messages, FANS over Iridium messages over the satellite network. It wasn’t until the RTCA DO-262A, which is the NextGen satellite system specification, they actually now have Appendix A, which allows FANS over Iridium. We are basically saying this is a FANS over Iridium unit. It’s a standalone unit, it has an embedded Iridium short burst data module inside of it that provides the Iridium connectivity. 

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: How does this DLU simplify pilot to controller communication? Could this be used for CPDLC in both the US and Europe?

van Berkel: Yes, that’s exactly what it does. When they’re flying the FANS routes like oceanic FANS routes, it used to be that a pilot would have to report over HF. For example, position reports would be required every so often at a set time and place. 

Now, the aircraft can automatically send your position report over Iridium. Our unit is sending off the latitude and longitude and position of the aircraft automatically. Also the Controller to Pilot Data Link C communications (CPDLC) part of it works everywhere. You’re able to get CPDLC on the Flight Management System (FMS), so they’re able to request clearances and receive clearances through the FMS using CPDLC. And that will work anywhere, in the U.S., in Europe and oceanic regions.

We have a number of European operators that are putting the product on because they’re trying to achieve the CPDLC compliance in Europe as well.

AVIONICS MAGAZINE: How does SimphonÄ“ provide operators with an extra communications channel? 

van Berkel: What it does is add on that extra data link channel that allows you to do CPDLC communications. Most of the operators putting the FANS 1/A over Iridium don’t have any FANS capability like an Inmarsat FANS capability. So this is a new capability that is being added to the aircraft to be compliant to be able to take advantage of these more efficient FANS routes that are available over the North Atlantic. 

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