ATM Modernization, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

ESA Awards Contract to Facilitate Satellite-based CPDLC in Europe by 2018

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | March 11, 2016
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[Avionics Today 03-11-2016] A little more than a year after the European Commission (EC) delayed its mandate for European airspace users to equip their aircraft with Controller to Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) avionics, a major new agreement announced at the World Air Traffic Management (ATM) Congress has been signed to facilitate European satellite-based CPDLC operations by 2018. Under a new contract award from the European Space Agency (ESA), satellite services provider Inmarsat will take the lead of a consortium of 30 aviation companies to develop a technical, commercial and operational roadmap for satellite-based air traffic air-to-ground communications in Europe. 
Alitalia Airbus A330. Alitalia is the first airline to joint the Inmarsat-lead Iris Precursor consortium. Photo: Alitalia. 
In February 2015, technical issues related to the ground-based data link communications infrastructure in Europe lead to an EC decision to delay its original February 2015 mandate for CPDLC equipage on aircraft flying above 28,500 feet in European airspace. Over the last year, the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) consortium worked on a plan to address the data link ground infrastructure issues that caused the delay. An investigation into the ground infrastructure performance between 2014 and 2015 found that the ground automation systems implemented to support CPDLC operations were producing disconnections between aircraft VHD Data Link (VDL) mode 2 radios, CPDLC messaging interfacing devices, antennas and Future Aircraft Navigation System (FANS) 1/A routers were producing disconnections known as Provider Aborts (PAs). 
Now, under the contract awarded to Inmarsat by ESA, the Iris Service Evolution program has been established to focus on using advanced satellite technology to improve CPDLC services in Europe. The contract award follows a successful flight trial conducted by members of SESAR JU on Feb. 23, 2016. The trial featured a test flight operated on an Airbus A330 that took off from Toulouse, France, flew over the Baleares islands and returned to Toulouse while passing above Madrid, Spain. During the flight, the aircraft used Inmarsat satellite spot beam swapping to automatically exchange CPDLC messages with the Eurocontrol Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC). 
SESAR JU indicates that the flight also showed how Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) contracts could be successfully maintained simultaneously with two Air Traffic Control centers — MUAC and Airbus Toulouse — for more than two hours. Within that time, the aircraft produced downlinking trajectory updates approximately every 20 seconds with 20 different waypoints. 
“The flight trial shows what can be achieved by joining forces on European aviation modernization. The results are clearly in line with the SESAR vision of the future ATM system, as captured by the European ATM Master Plan,” Florian Guillermet, execute director of SESAR JU said in a statement released following the flight trial. 
The flight trial was also the first live demonstration of the use of Inmarsat’s Iris Precursor technology to facilitate what SESAR refers to as initial 4D (i4D) flight trajectory management. SESAR JU defines i4D as a technological concept designed to ensure aircraft flight trajectories remain synchronized between air and ground throughout all stages of flight. Inmarsat and ESA first announced the completion of the final design review for the Iris Precursor program for supporting i4D flight path control in July 2015. 
“Air traffic management is under great pressure and there is no doubt that the digitalization of cockpit communication is a vital building block of the future, opening the door for airlines to truly benefit from enhanced data utilization,” Leo Mondale, president of Inmarsat Aviation said in a statement, regarding the contract awarded by ESA. 
“Iris will mark a new era of communication in the aviation industry and places Europe at the forefront of ATM innovation. Inmarsat pioneered satellite data link services in oceanic areas 25 years ago and we look forward to now bringing this expertise and knowledge to continental airspace. Together with ESA and members of the Iris consortium, we will demonstrate the important contribution that Iris will make to air traffic management in Europe,” he added.
Inmarsat also announced Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia, as the first European airline to join the Iris program. 
“We will make our know-how available for this key project, which will revolutionize the aviation industry. We believe that satellite communications represent the natural development of the industry and will lead to concrete benefits to airlines and their travelers due to reduced flight times, more savings on fuel consumption and an even more advanced flight safety,” said Giancarlo Schisano, chief operations officer at Alitalia. 
Boeing, Honeywell, Thales, and the Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) of Germany, Norway, Spain and the U.K. are among the aviation industry organizations supporting the Iris program. 
SESAR JU expects Iris Precursor to begin supporting CPDLC flight operations in European airspace by 2018.

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