How WxOps is Supporting a New Kind of Cockpit Communications

WxOps weather information displayed over Google Earth. Photo: WxOps.

WxOps weather information displayed over Google Earth. Photo: WxOps.

A tablet-based software capable of enabling pilot to Airline Operational Control center (AOC) and generating common operational environments pictures has been approved for use as part of a recently announced Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). The software, OpsTablet and OpsMessenger from WxOps, is capable of enabling enables aircraft to dispatch and aircraft to aircraft data communications using cellular and satellite driven Internet Protocol communications links by taking advantage of aircraft interface device (AID) technology.

The WxOps tablet software is is designed for dispatcher-pilot operational communications prior to, during and after a flight. According toto WxOps COO Albert Peterlin,  pilots and dispatchers can use the software to simultaneously assess current weather and logistics data using the same geospatial software common operating environment (COE). Dispatchers can also provide pilots with ad hoc chat, text and graphic information during a flight to alert pilots to conditions affecting flight safety and efficiency.

“CPDLC-enabled digital communications between ATC and aircraft has been in use in the oceanic environment for several years now. It has improved the workflow on both ends of the equation, and adoption has been mostly successful.  Much like CPDLC, a similar process needs to be addressed on the airline AOC side; that’s where OpsTablet and OpsMessenger comes in,” WxOps CEO Mark Spence, who recently discussed the OpsTablet at the Global Connected Aircraft Summit, told Avionics. 

In November 2016, WxOps announced completion of the first flight evaluation of its OpsTablet EFB software on integrated EFBs featured on several Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s. That initial evaluation focused on software performance, human factors, data currency, cellular and satellite connectivity, bandwidth stability and data transfer speed associated with the aircraft to dispatch and dispatch to aircraft operational data exchange capabilities of WxOps. Specifically, the aircraft-to-dispatch portion of this activity evaluated transfer and analysis of aircraft derived data and manual messaging with attachments, including transfer of ARINC 429 and 717 data via the United Technologies Corp. Aerospace Systems (UTAS) AID to the ground.

How it works: Hawaiian Airlines connects to the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband IP network through the use of the UTAS AID. Cobham satellite antenna and transceivers are installed on Hawaiian Boeing 767s, and Honeywell transceivers are used on the Airbus A330s. The AID device contains both satcom and cellular interfaces that provide satcom-enabled communications between airborne aircraft and cellular communications on the ground,  which allows for air or ground transfer of data in near real time, according to Peterlin.

On June 1, avionics engineering, integration and installation services company L2 announced that that WxOps OpsTablet software has been approved for operational use with its supplemental type certificate (STC), which enables the approves the installation of the Cobham Satcom Aviator SwiftBroadband (SBB) Satellite Communications System on Hawaiian Airlines 767-300 series aircraft, using Inmarsat’s ACARS ground gateways to carry both FANS safety messages and ACARS operational messages.

Connected technology can now enable exchange of important operational information in near real time. The question now becomes what when where how and why?  From a man-machine interface perspective, we have been working a more structured and disciplined approach to chatting and texting than you would on your personal cell phone. The goal is to optimize bandwidth efficiency and cost while still providing a great user experience,” said Spence.

One of the biggest benefits to Hawaiian pilots enabled by the WxOps application is the graphical operational information display of weather being viewed by pilots while en route to their destination airport. Hawaiian for example flies extensively in the oceanic environment, and one of the uses of the WxOps software is that it is designed to give pilots updated information about weather, allowing them to make the best use of available winds, avoid severe storms and make more dynamic flight planning changes.

According to Peterlin, the OpsTablet was designed for Panasonic’s FZ-G1 Toughpad tablet, but is also being evaluated for a “transition to JAVA for support of more hardware and operating systems, including Linux and Mac OS,” he said.


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