Dec. 6, 2023

Business aircraft operators recently gained expanded access to en route controller pilot data link communications (CPDLC) with air traffic controllers throughout many parts of the U.S. A Dec. 5 NBAA News Hour webinar addressed operators’ questions about CPDLC, including what equipment is required and how to gain approval to utilize en route data link communications.

“With this change in the policy guidance, there is a process operators will need to comply with,” noted session moderator Heidi Williams, NBAA’s senior director for air traffic services and infrastructure. “We want to ensure that you understand what that process involves, and some of the complexities that are part of that process.”

Aircraft must be equipped with a valid communications management unit and flight management system to use en route CPDLC. Operators are required to submit participation forms to L3Harris to join the program, with the FAA maintaining a list of approved aircraft and avionics configurations.

Kathy Torrence, FAA datacomm program manager, noted such configurations are sorted as “Green-Yellow-Red,” with configurations in the yellow column still undergoing testing by OEMs at the FAA’s Technical Center and by participating operators.

“We’ll monitor them for approximately 10,000 transactions [data link communications] as we collect [fleetwide] data, until we have gotten to the point where we know performance is good,” she added. If operators do encounter issues with CPDLC, those configurations may be moved to the red column prohibiting en route CPDLC use until the problems are resolved.

Jens Hennig, vice president of operations at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, noted there’s also a backlog of between 400-500 participation forms submitted by operators since October 2022, when the FAA closed its en route CPDLC trial.

“We should see quite the uptake from that existing set of trial participants [and] that should be coming online here pretty quickly,” he said. “The last thing we want is [an operator ready to utilize CPDLC] but was a paperwork issue that needs to be resolved.”

Mark Patterson, aviation safety inspector for the FAA, also shared guidance for operators that have received participant approval from L3Harris but are currently prohibited from using en route CPDLC.

“If you determine that you meet the airspace requirements and you’re on either the Yellow or Green on the list, regardless of any limitations … for the next 12 months, until October of next year, you can operate without a revised LOA OpSpec or MSpec,” he explained. “You do not have to do anything as an operator.”

Other topics addressed during the webinar included the FAA’s timeline for enabling CPDLC across the country, when to submit a participation request when taking delivery of a new aircraft and interoperability between U.S. and Canadian CPDLC operations.