ATM Modernization, Commercial

5 Updates on Aircraft Data Link Communications Progress

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | November 6, 2015
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[Avionics Toady 11-6-2015] The continued expansion and evolution of using aircraft data link communications to improve airspace capacity, flight operational efficiency, safety and to supplement congested voice channels between controllers and pilots is central to all major air transportation system modernization projects currently ongoing in North America, Latin America, Europe and certain areas of the Asia-Pacific region. In the United States, the FAA has made major progress this year with its DataComm program, and despite the equipage mandate delay in Europe announced earlier this year, various Flight Information Regions controlled by different ANSPs in Europe are making progress to facilitate seamless, always-available data link communications for operators. 
What a pilot sees on an aircraft cockpit display when using Data Comm for a revised route clearance. Photo: NATCA. 
Here are five updates on some of the latest efforts to improve and expand on aeronautical data link communications.
1. Departure Clearances Live at Three U.S. Airports, More to Come
Right now air traffic controllers and operators of properly equipped aircraft have the ability to use Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) for Departure Clearance (DCL) at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, TX (HOU) and Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah (SLC). 
A DCL clearance may include a re-route and the initial clearance may be amended as needed until the actual departure occurs. In order to use CPDLC for DCL in the U.S., aircraft must be equipped with FANS 1/A with VDL Mode 2 and the flight crew must be trained on using CPDLC for DCL. 
During a speech at the Airlines Pilots Association (ALP) Air Cargo Symposium on Thursday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta spoke about plans for the 2016 expansion of CPDLC DCL availability at more U.S. airports. 
"In September, we started using Data Comm at three key site towers: Salt Lake City, and the major airports located in Houston. These sites are in addition to the highly successful trials we rolled out in Newark and Memphis," said Huerta. "In 2016, we’re aiming to build on this momentum with an accelerated schedule that will deliver Data Comm services to more than 50 additional air traffic control towers.
Data Comm is just one example of the FAA’s larger shift toward reducing risk in our national aviation system."
2. SITA OnAir in Brazil
Earlier this week, SITA OnAir announced the completion of the deployment of a Very High Frequency (VHF) and VDL data link network at 53 sites across Brazil. 
This is major progress for airspace modernization efforts in Brazil where air traffic continues to rise and the region prepares for an influx of international air traffic during the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games. Additionally, language barriers could limit the effectiveness of voice communications between international pilots and local Brazilian air traffic controllers. 
According to SITA OnAir, deployment of the network enables DCL and Digital Automatic Terminal Information Service (D-ATIS) data link services for 23 different control towers throughout Brazil. 
DECEA's future plans are similar to those of the FAA, to expand the use of CPDLC from DCL and D-ATIS to more advanced en route airspace applications and capabilities.
3. SITA OnAir in Italy
SITA OnAir also made a major splash at the 2015 APEX Expo in September by signing an agreement with Italy's Air Navigation Service Provider, ENAV to jointly provide air to ground VHF-based data link communications services in Italy. ENAV is in the process of deploying VHF data communication equipment at 19 airports throughout Italy. 
The agreement between SITA OnAir and ENAV also shows the difference between the deployment and expansion of CPDLC in the United States under the FAA's NextGen program and in Europe, where individual private ANSPs such as ENAV are working to facilitate the use of CPDLC for operators and controllers. SITA OnAir is also working with ANSPs in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
4. ALTYS in Germany
In addition to working with SITA OnAir, Germany's ANSP, Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS) is also working with international digital communications systems engineering company ALTYS for end to end validation testing of its aircraft data link communications infrastructure.  ALTYS is using its PEER data link testing system to simulate aircraft of various types sending and receiving CPDLC messages over VDL Mode 2 channel and ATN, which allows DFS to perform acceptance and non-regression testing of its data link network and ATC systems. 
DFS has not yet announced a timeline for when operators will be able to start using CPDLC in live flight operations, but the testing work being conducted with DFS shows this is a capability the German ANSP wants to facilitate prior to the newly established 2020 Link 2000+ mandate.
5. RTCA SC-214 
The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) Special Committee 214 recently finalized the revisions for all Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) Baseline 2 documents. These include Safety and Performance Requirements (SPR), DO-350, and Interoperability Requirements (INTEROPS), DO-351, DO-352 and DO-353.
According to an overview of Link 2000+ from Beechcraft, “the ground-based digital Aeronautical Telecommunications Network was envisioned to be the first iteration of ATN-based data link service, known as ATN Baseline 1 or ATN B1. In European airspace, it was designed to operate over the VHF Data Link Mode 2 (VDL M2) subnetwork. ATN B1 datalink technology has been envisioned as an intermediate step until the follow-on, globally interoperable ATN Baseline 2 CPDLC system becomes available, likely in the next decade.”
According to a recent news update from RTCA, the documents provide the following updates for air traffic data link communications services: 
Redlines for modifications affecting the initial release scope and Operational Safety Assessment/Operational Performance Assessment (OSA/OPA)
Yellow, highlighting text for the addition of Interval Management – Arrival, Approach, Cruise and Departure (IM AACD) related changes
Cyan, highlighting text for the addition of Dynamic RNP changes
Green, highlighting text for the addition of Interval Management Pair-wise Trajectory (IM PTM) changes. 

SC 214 jointly with Eurocae WG-78 expects to publish revision A for the Baseline 2 documents in March 2016. 

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