Wizz Air, a low cost carrier based in Hungary, has become the first carrier in Europe to deploy SITAONAIR’s airline-integrated ACARS over IP service. Photo: Wizz Air
Wizz Air, a Budapest, Hungary-based operator of more than 100 Airbus A320s, has become Europe’s first airline to start using SITAONAIR’s aircraft communication, addressing and reporting system (ACARS) over Internet Protocol (IP), enabled by an airplane system software upgrade.
Although Wizz Air is the first European airline to start using the newer capability from SITAONAIR, it is not the first in the world, as the concept has been deployed in several other regions. SITAONAIR looks at the enablement of ACARS over IP as a complement to its existing very high frequency (VHF) ACARS radio network deployed throughout Europe, Euan Mitchell, product manager for SITAONAIR AIRCOM told Avionics International.
“Integrating cellular networks into the existing aircraft communications ecosystem is a game changer for airlines and aircraft operations, exponentially increasing the overall capacity available. Today, VHF radio networks are serving thousands of aircraft in Europe on a daily basis but are, by nature, narrow band and finite in their capacity. In comparison, 3G, 4G and eventually 5G bring additional capacity and low levels of latency, making them ideally suited for operations critical data exchanges,” Mitchell said.
What implementation of ACARS over IP for Wizz Air will actually provide is the ability for the airline’s maintenance team to send any non-Air Traffic Control related ACARS messages over a terrestrial cellular network when the cellular radio is turned on and the aircraft is on the ground. As a concept, SITAONAIR first proposed the use of ACARS over IP in this way in a 2017 white paper.
According to Mitchell, leveraging terrestrial cellular networks helps eliminate the need to roll out new dedicated VHF stations at airports, as the cellular networks offer a much more cost effective expansion of coverage. The ACARS over IP approach also enables Wizz Air the use of consistent and existing interfaces across SITAONAIR’s global datalink system as well as other networks.
The graphic here taken from SITAONAIR's November 2019 update to its ACARS multilink strategy, shows how the ACARS global datalink service provider envisions adaptiation to new networks. Photo: SITAONAIR
“Due to the critical nature for which they are used, quite simply: not working is not an option. A full suite of performance monitoring tools has been applied to our ACARS over IP service, so we can monitor availability and performance in real time, all the time. Furthermore, the service is integrated into our overall communications service. So, if the ‘IP’ portion fails, we can ensure fall back to conventional aircraft networks,” Mitchell send.
On the network side, SITAONAIR’s enables its central infrastructure to connect securely to cellular networks and their core systems now recognize those as new ACARS networks. Philippines-based Cebu Pacific is also using the ACARS over IP service, which Mitchell said is also “gaining attention globally and we have several customers trailing this as we speak.”
Murray Skelton, senior director of aircraft solutions at Teledyne Controls said the only change required for Wizz Air was a simple software upgrade to their GroundLink Comm+, the company’s all-in-one connectivity box capable of serving as a wireless aircraft interface device or to provide the wireless distribution of data, among other data linking and loading functionality.
“There are two principal benefits: the first is that the cost of using ACARS (usual charged by kilobyte) is dramatically reduced, enabling the airline to use ACARS more often; the second is that for airlines like Wizz Air that fly to airfields that do not have ACARS, this is now not a problem. As long as they have access to a cellular network, they can still enjoy the benefits that ACARS has to offer,” Skelton said.
Over the next 12 to 18 months Teledyne expects “up to 2,000 aircraft could have ACARS over IP,” according to Skelton.
“The ability to extend our datalink coverage and implement automatic ACARS-based reporting and processes is a huge benefit for Wizz Air. We are pleased to be continuing our relationship with SITAONAIR and are delighted to pioneer this with ACARS over IP services together. We will be able to move forward with better and more efficient aircraft timing reporting and conduct data transmissions across our entire network,” Konstantin Milarov, technical services manager for Wizz Air said of the ACARS over IP upgrade.