Contractors Eye Data Comm Program as Standards Evolve

 - October 10, 2011, 3:58 PM
A multifunction control display unit mounted in an aircraft cockpit shows a controller-pilot datalink communications message. (Photo: FAA)

The competition is under way to provide air-ground data communications in U.S. domestic airspace, a key piece of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). At the same time, the FAA has asked its NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) to recommend a data communications “roadmap” through 2030, taking into account different datalink standards. Airbus and Boeing have weighed in with a joint letter opposing an incremental standard that would align U.S. and European systems in the short term.

Responses to a request for offers for the FAA’s Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) acquisition came due in early October. The program, which plans to award a contract in 2012, seeks a contractor to provide ground-to-ground and air-to-ground segments of a data network between ATC service points and data comm-equipped aircraft. AIN has verified that Harris and ITT stand among DCIS bidders. Harris serves as prime contractor of the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure, the network supporting voice, data and video communications at 4,000 FAA and Department of Defense facilities. ITT is building the ground infrastructure for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), a nationwide network of radio stations.

The FAA plans to deploy data communications in ATC towers by 2014 to transmit departure clearances to pilots, followed by en-route messaging from air route traffic control centers to aircraft in 2018. It will implement data comm in two steps, starting with existing Fans 1/A standard datalink avionics used by Boeing and Airbus models in oceanic airspace and moving to the Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) Baseline 2 standard, currently in development, to align with Europe later this decade. Budget reductions have led the FAA to delay ATN B2 implementation to about 2020, lagging Europe’s schedule by two years.

In a September 15 letter to the NAC, Boeing and Airbus argue against U.S. introduction of an incremental standard–ATN B1–that would align sooner with Europe’s 2014 data comm mandate under the Link 2000+ program. ATN B1 is not an “integrated” standard or one allowing for the exchange of digital messages between ground automation systems and aircraft flight management systems, the airframers say. They also see no need to match Europe’s ATN B1 mandate in U.S. domestic airspace, noting that aircraft flying between the continents will need Fans 1/A avionics to meet a North Atlantic mandate. “The European data comm roadmap has a path different [from that] in the U.S., but to the same end,” the letter states.