datalink deadline

March 16, 2018

The FAA recently extended the timeframe for U.S. Part 91 operators to receive a revised authorization for use of Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), although operators hoping to take advantage of reduced spacing along certain North Atlantic (NAT) Tracks still face an imminent deadline for compliance with performance-based communications and surveillance (PBCS) standards.

Last December, the FAA released Notice 8900.446 stating operators with current authorization for use of CPDLC would be required to apply for a revised A056 authorization by March 29, 2018 to align with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mandate for PBCS. Operators hoping to take advantage of reduced spacing on designated PBCS NAT Tracks after that date are required to have PBCS listed on their A056 OpSpec or letter of authorization (LOA).

However, the FAA has since extended its deadline for Part 91 operators using CPDLC outside of the designated PBCS NAT Tracks to Sept. 30, 2018 to provide additional time for the agency to process LOA applications. While the FAA’s data link deadline is separate from ICAO’s PBCS mandate, the two are linked through use of CPDLC.

“This is a rapidly evolving process, and already we’ve seen many changes making the A056 authorization easier for operators to receive,” said Brian Koester, NBAA manager, operations. “For example, the FAA’s compliance guide has been updated to allow operators to demonstrate alternate means of compliance for their aircraft to meet the TSO C-160a standard through statements of compliance from the manufacturer or showing their aircraft is equipped with VDL M2 (tunable to multiple frequencies) that includes integrated avionics that allows flight crew to automatically load uplinked messages in to the flight management system (FMS).”

Fifty-seven U.S. airports currently offer CPDLC Departure Clearance (DCL) capability for operators to receive text-based departure clearances through the aircraft’s FMS. Soon, U.S. air route traffic control centers also will utilize CPDLC to relay enroute communications and clearance information to aircraft, reducing frequency congestion and enable more accurate understanding of, and compliance with, ATC instructions.

Oceanic airspace lacking reliable voice communications drove initial use of CPDLC, most notably through the Future Air Navigation System data link mandate across the NAT. ICAO and other aviation authorities are now looking to text-based communications to enable tighter spacing requirements along the most congested tracks, which is where the stricter required communication and surveillance standards of PBCS come into play.

Koester noted NBAA”s International Operators Conference, which runs March 26-29 in Las Vegas, NV, and a webinar, tentatively planned for late April, will detail these changes and provide the latest information for operators.

“Operators that have yet to apply for their data link LOA are encouraged to begin that process soon,” he added. “All operators passing through the ICAO NAT region between FL350 and FL390 (inclusive) need to be equipped with CPDLC, and all certificated operators using CPDLC require an OpSpec, but Part 91 operators only need an LOA if they are using CPDLC outside of the U.S.”