[Avionics Magazine 12-29-2016] Thales and Brussels Airlines have demonstrated a new live weather service that is capable of sending weather updates to a pilot's Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) system throughout the course of a flight. Thales calls the service a “technical breakthrough,” as it uses the existing Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) network despite its bandwidth limitations and can provide flight operational benefits for passengers and operators.
Outside view of the Thales Research & Technology site, in Palaiseau, France. Photo: Thales.
The live weather functionality was tested in flight for the first time in September 2016 on an Airbus 330 as part of the Toplink project for the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) large-scale demonstration program. As part of the Toplink project, Thales and Brussels Airlines have developed and flight-tested a ground-to-air link that uses an existing communication network to send updated weather information to the pilot's EFB. During a commercial A330 flight between Brussels and Dakar, updated weather reports were successfully transmitted to pilots using ACARS.
Thales notes that using ACARS for transmitting weather data is quite a technical challenge because the network was not designed for sending large volumes of data and transmission speeds are very low, about 2 kilobytes per minute for text. Thales worked on two fronts, filtering out any information that is not strictly relevant to the pilot, and compressing the data at the same time.
As a result, the pilot's EFB displays a complete, updated weather situation including Meteorological Terminal Air Reports (METAR), Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMET) and Rapidly Developing Thunderstorms (RDTs) in the proximity of the flight path.
Thales has not yet released details on when the technology will become commercially available to end-users.