May 29, 2015

In anticipation of more widespread deployment of Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) systems in the United States, including the imminent rollout of CPDLC departure clearances (CPDLC-DCL) in some areas, the FAA recently issued a revised “Operations Specification (OpSpec)/Management Specification Letter of Authorization (LOA) A056, Data Link Communications” guidance for domestic operators seeking approval to use these systems.

An integral component of the future air navigation system, CPDLC provides in-cockpit text messaging capabilities between air traffic control and flight crews in regions with poor VHF or HF radio reception, or at times when two-way voice communications may not be possible or convenient. Operators currently utilize CPDLC most often along the North Atlantic Track (NAT) system, though the technology is gaining ground throughout Europe and in other regions.

“We’re only going to see more aircraft equipped with CPDLC in the years ahead,” said Brian Koester, NBAA project manager, operations. “While the infrastructure is still being developed to support widespread data link communications in the U.S., the FAA has laid the groundwork for a defined process that business aviation operators may use to receive LOA approval for systems onboard their aircraft.”

A key aspect of the new guidance is that such approvals are no longer required to go through FAA headquarters. The authorization can now be granted with only FAA regional concurrence, a process change that “should greatly speed up the approval process for operators seeking to utilize the capabilities of CPDLC,” Koester added.

As before, the FAA states that data link communications must only be used in areas with the necessary radar or automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) air traffic surveillance infrastructure to support it, and only as a supplement to continually monitored voice communications.

Koester also noted that the revised FAA guidance also only approves use of CPDLC within the U.S. during ground operations.

“This stipulation prevents operators from trying to use this technology where it is not supported,” he said. “Current infrastructure in the U.S. only supports the use of CPDLC on the ground, but in time, we should expect the same operating window for U.S. domestic use of CPDLC as seen in Europe and along the NAT.”

Part 91 operators do not require authorization to operate CPDLC-DCL, according to the revised OpSpec, provided they have proper training. These operators must also have an OEM-approved annotation in their airplane flight manual. However, an LOA will still be required for all datalink operations outside of U.S. domestic airspace.

Review the FAA’s “Operations Specification (OpSpec)/Management Specification Letter of Authorization (LOA) A056, Data Link Communications.”