Region V: Europe

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At the NextGen Crossroads In Europe

What Does Link 2000+ Mean For European Operations?

May 13, 2011

A deadline looms for operators flying to Europe to comply with new data link communications standards between aircraft and air traffic control, but how concerned should the business aviation community be?

At issue is the January 2014 target date for "harmonization" between Link 2000+, EUROCONTROL's solution for handling Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), and existing technologies referred to as the Future Avionics Navigation System (FANS) 1/A. Elements of the FANS 1/A are now deployed over a number of oceanic routes, including the popular North Atlantic corridor between Europe and North America.

Link 2000+ is a ground-based aeronautical telecommunication network (ATN) intended to supplant most voice interactions between ATC and aircraft operating above 28,500 feet, with text-based instruction and communication. To operate in Link 2000+ airspace, aircraft will be required to carry VHF Data Link (VDL) Mode 2 communications equipment allowing two-way data transmissions between aircraft and ground control, utilizing a ground-based data relay network.

And that's where the quandary – or at lest, the confusion – lies. The ground-based systems used under Link 2000+ are not necessarily compatible with other data link systems, most notably the satellite-based capabilities being developed under FANS-1/A. Aircraft operating in both environments need separate data link systems to accommodate both technologies.

So, will that force aircraft not equipped for Link 2000+ out of that airspace? Jeff Saucedo, Vice President for OEM Sales for International Communications Group (ICG) doesn't think so. "I believe EUROCONTROL will be looking at exemptions for those aircraft meeting FANS-1/A standards," Saucedo predicts, adding older aircraft may be exempted from the requirements entirely.

"There's not a lot of guidance out there right now for data link implementation," Saucedo continues. "If I fly here, I need this but not that. Right now, there are all these little things people are asking. 'How do we record data link messages? FDRs?' CVRs are no longer voice-only, they can also record data. Which one captures ARINC messages and records it?"

Despite the current uncertainty, Saucedo explains that Europe is moving forward with its program. " I think Europeans are making an effort to be proactive on the issue, by saying 'let's do this, and how do we make it cost-effective?'"

The goal with all airborne data link systems is to reduce audio congestion on frequency, which in turn should open airspace to increased capacity – thanks to reduced concerns over lost or garbled instructions – and more direct routing. Faster clearances, and clearances auto-accepted directly into a flight plan are additional benefits.

With CPDLC, voice communications wouldn't disappear entirely, but would be relegated to a backup role. "Air traffic controllers and pilots alike have learned the hard way that voice communication has become the limit to attached sector capacity in Europe today," EUROCONTROL notes on its web site.

To fully benefit from FANS-1/A, aircraft must be equipped with a Global Positioning System compliant with RNP-4; RCP-240 satcom; a data link recorder; and the required STCs for these items. Support equipment, such as Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) and Multi-function Control and Display Units (MCDU) may also require upgrades. Compliance with Link 2000+ will also require a CPDLC capable of receiving information from ground-based networks.

Regardless of whether the data is relayed through ground stations or satellites, Saucedo believes the move to airborne data link is "a natural fit" for aviation. "Look at how the world communicates today," Saucedo notes. "Text messages, and email. I'm excited to see this happen in my lifetime."

A wide variety of operational topics for business aviation in Europe will be presented at the 11th Annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2011). For more information, visit www.ebace.aero.