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IMS EMEA Newsletter Issue 4 - January 2011

 

High Time to seize the CPDLC opportunity

 

Vol4-4Everyone agrees that the eagerly awaited Single European Sky will be a very good thing. Rationalising today's patchwork of national airspace jurisdictions and introducing new technology to support controllers and manage traffic flows, it will cut delays and allow operators to fly their aircraft in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way.

But there's no such thing as a free revolution in air traffic management, and business jet owners will soon find themselves being invited to pay for one of the tickets needed to enter the brave new world of integrated European airspace. From the beginning of this year, European regulations require all new aircraft intended for operations at flight levels above 28,500ft to be equipped with VDL2 (VHF Digital Link Mode 2) datalink. And from February 2015 the rule will apply to all aircraft flying in that airspace.

“This mandate will sooner or later have a bearing on every business jet operator planning to fly in Europe,” says James Hardie, the UK-based senior business manager of corporate and VIP aviation service provider ARINC Direct. “The intent behind it is very simple: to promote the wide adoption of controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), which is one of the fundamental pillars of the new way of managing air traffic in Europe.”

He continues: “The regulators say that other technologies able to meet the requirement for data exchange with air traffic services might be acceptable, but for all practical purposes the solution is equipment designed to work with VDL2 datalink and the Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN).”

What does this mean for the business aviation community, and why might early adoption actually be a good thing? “Yes, it's another regulatory demand and another expense,” says Hardie. “But every cloud has a silver lining, and for a number of reasons once the operators have bitten the bullet they will probably wonder why they didn't do it years ago.”

Many of the aircraft served by ARINC Direct are equipped with the ACARS first-generation datalink, an analogue VHF system providing a maximum data rate of 2.4kbit/sec. As its name suggests, VDL2 is a digital system operating at up to 30.5kbit/sec. And to comply with the new rules the installation must also run ATN software and meet a number of additional requirements in the cockpit. “You can't relax just because you already have ACARS,” Hardie emphasises.

Since its introduction in 1978 ACARS has done a good job for air transport and other operators. An early application was the reporting of actual flight times and airframe cycles, allowing better administration of things like crew pay, airframe fatigue monitoring and maintenance, and on-time performance measurement. Then came new applications such as flightplan uplinks, automatic position reporting, engine monitoring, weather information, departure and oceanic clearances, and arriving gate notifications.

But the need for data exchange between aircraft and ground has grown relentlessly over the years, creating demand for a link with more bandwidth. And the advent of safety-critical ATM functions requires an even higher degree of reliability and integrity than is already offered by ACARS. In Europe VDL2 is the answer, and CPDLC is the key application.

“Text-based datalink communications between cockpit and controller will facilitate more efficient use of the available airspace, making it possible to accommodate the expected continuing growth in air traffic,” says Hardie. “Immediate benefits to operators will include more access to optimum flight levels and consequent fuel savings, fewer delays, more efficient continuous-descent approaches, and a big reduction in distracting radio chatter.”

At the same time, other functions already supported by ACARS will become even more slick with VDL2. “Pilot decision-making will be enhanced by faster, automatic delivery of information such as flightplan updates, graphical weather and clearances,” says Hardie. “Flight-following and position reporting to company operations centres and ATC will be the norm. And administration will benefit from auto-forwarding of time-stamped messages relating to flight times, crew duty rosters and maintenance.”

As a service provider to the business jet community, Hardie knows they are as cost-conscious as anyone else. Using a Cessna Citation Mustang as the basis, he recently carried out an analysis of the fuel savings to be obtained from continued access to flight levels above FL285. “Cruise fuel burn is 100lb/hr more at FL285 than at FL340,” he says. “Assuming the aircraft flies 1,200hr over a three-year period, with 80 per cent of the time spent in the cruise, the saving from operating at the higher altitude would amount to 96,000lb, worth more than $50,000 at current values.”

The deadline for compliance with the new rules is now upon operators taking delivery of new aircraft, and most current in-service jet aircraft will have to have avionics upgrades or retrofits by 2015. “Operators need to move on this very soon if they are not to end up at the back of a long queue for equipment and installations,” Hardie warns. “We are now urging our customers to develop an action plan, starting with establishing whether they actually want and need to fly at above FL285 in Europe. If they do, the next step is a business case.”

As well as fuel savings and emissions reductions, the business case should consider factors such as operational restrictions and slot allocation, passenger comfort, range implications, the cost of VDL2 equipment and installation, and future asset value and saleability.

“If the business case adds up, operators of aircraft now in service must plan on acquiring a certificated datalink capability no later than February 2015, and ideally sooner than that,” advises Hardie. “Practical matters to be assessed include upgrade paths, partial provisioning, STC and other regulatory requirements, aircraft downtime and hangar availability, and potential implications for operations and the training of crew and maintenance staff.”

This all looks like a lot of work and expense at a time when many operators must be looking to cut their spending to the bone. “Meeting this requirement is no minor matter,” agrees Hardie. “But far-sighted operators will get their reward in the coming years as the Single European Sky is implemented and the most fuel-efficient flight levels and beneficial routings are reserved for aircraft capable of fitting into the ATM system of the future.”

 

 

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