Guidelines Readied for Satcom Voice ATC Communications

 - October 1, 2012, 12:05 PM
Gables Engineering exhibited a touchscreen multifunction control and display unit under development for satcom voice and other communications functions at the ICG NxtLink conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo: Bill Carey)

In a development particularly relevant to oceanic operations, an FAA-sponsored aviation rulemaking committee expects to issue guidance material providing for the use of satellite-based voice communications for long-range contact with ATC by year-end.

While airline pilots can already communicate by satcom voice with their operations bases, the use of satellite-based voice communications for ATC holds promise for safer, more reliable long-range communications than those delivered by the current system, which relies on high-frequency (HF) radios. Of even more value from the airline perspective, it could relieve operators of the minimum equipment list dispatch requirement of equipping aircraft with two heavy HF radios for redundancy. They could instead replace one of the 60-pound radios with a lighter satcom system; an Iridium system weighs about 11 pounds, saving a carrier about 50 pounds.

Robert Tegeder, an FAA aviation safety inspector until he retired last month, reported on the progress made toward incorporating satcom voice for ATC at a conference hosted by satcom system manufacturer ICG on September 26. After three years of developing guidance materials and procedures, the communications working group of an FAA-sponsored Performance-based operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee, known as the PARC CWG, working with an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) task force, has completed the final draft of the guidance material, scheduled for publication by year-end, he said.

“The FAA will receive from the PARC CWG a letter talking about the guidance that’s been done, talking about the trials that have been accomplished and asking…the FAA to tacitly approve satcom voice as a long-range communications system,” Tegeder said. “This also should happen by the end of this year. That would mean that operators could take a look at having one HF [radio] and one satcom voice on the airplane as a good redundant capability.” He explained that third-party communications providers Arinc and Sita will provide satcom voice because they have the necessary infrastructure.

Satcom provider Iridium, which supplies the core modem used in other manufacturers’ satcom products, is in the process of certifying a system that complies with ICAO’s satcom voice guidance, said Ted O’Brien, Iridium vice president and general manager for the Americas. Carlos Monsalve, ICG vice president of air transport sales, said weight savings and other efficiencies made possible by using Iridium satcom voice and data would enable airlines to realize a return on investment (ROI) within several months. “The ROI is clear,” he said.