FAA Seeks Contractor For NextGen Data Communications Network

 - July 25, 2011, 8:50 AM
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (left) and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt view datalinked air traffic control messages on Boeing 737 cockpit flight simulator during a Data Communications demonstration at the 2010 OshKosh FAA Fly-in. (Photo: FAA)

The FAA has issued a request for offers to provide data communications services under the agency’s Data Comm effort, considered one of the “transformational” programs leading to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

According to the NextGen concept, digital data messages eventually will replace voice as the primary means of communications between pilots and air traffic controllers, enabling more efficient operations and reducing communications errors and radio congestion. The FAA plans to deploy data communications in the tower domain by 2015 for departure clearances and other instructions, followed by en route messaging from air route traffic control centers in 2018.

The Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) acquisition, posted July 8, seeks a contractor to provide ground-to-ground and air-to-ground segments of the data network between FAA service points and data comm-equipped aircraft. Contractors must submit their offers by September 8, and the FAA plans to award a contract next June. 

The FAA said it expects the DCIS contractor to use one or both of the current commercial providers of air-to-ground communications–a reference to Arinc and SITA–to provide a VHF Digital Link Mode 2 (VDL-2) datalink service for air traffic control messages via the existing Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). The ACARS system allows for communications mainly between an airliner and its operations base.

In addition to the network service, the DCIS contractor must administer a “Data Communications Avionics Equipage Initiative,” with $80 million in funding to supply participating operators with the necessary Future Air Navigation System (FANS) 1/A+ avionics package. Under the FAA’s guidelines, it may use no more than 10 percent of the funding to equip Part 135 commuter and on-demand aircraft, while the balance goes to carriers operating under Part 121.

According to the solicitation, “The Data Communications Program Office expects the DCIS contractor and participating aircraft operator(s) to play a significant role in the advancement and realization of domestic data communications.”