The FAA has awarded an initial $20.5 million contract to ITT Industries aerospace/communications division to provide the agency with multimode VHF digital air-to-ground radios as part of its next-generation air/ground communications system (Nexcom). If all options are exercised, it could be worth as much as $580 million.
According to the FAA, the first building block of Nexcom will replace air traffic controllers’ aging analog radios with digital radios in phases. When completed, the entirely digital system will improve the agency’s ability to meet expanding ATC communication demands. ITT Industries, of Fort Wayne, Ind., is partnered with Park Air Systems of the UK, Federal Data Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and Operational Technologies Services of Vienna, Va.
The FAA said that the multimode VHF digital air-to-ground radios will provide air traffic controllers with the capability to accommodate the growing number of sectors and services using the limited spectrum available in the VHF aeronautical frequency band, reduce logistical costs (supplies, maintenance, training and so on) by replacing high-maintenance VHF radios, provide capability for future datalink communications to all classes of users, reduce air-to-ground radio frequency interference and improve security with the help of technology that reduces the threat from unauthorized users.
The multimode digital radio employs both the 25-kHz and 8.33-kHz double sidebands–AM for analog voice and VHF digital link mode-3 (VDL-3) technology for integrated digital voice and data. The FAA said the radio will be available next year as an analog infrastructure upgrade, and will be coupled with existing radio interface units for the air traffic en route environment. After completion of end-to-end operational testing, the radios will be installed at 1,500 existing remote air-to-ground communications and backup emergency communications facilities serving the 21 ARTCCs.
Because the new ground radio will help in the transition from analog voice to digital voice and datalink, it must be able to accommodate the current system in which frequencies are split into four radio channels with 25-kHz spacing; the European system, which splits frequencies into 12 channels with 8.33-kHz spacing; and the new Nexcom–VDL-3–which will be required for controller/pilot datalink communication (CPDLC) for Free Flight.
The FAA plans to install Nexcom in phases, beginning with the 21 en route centers in 2007. Once that becomes operational, Nexcom would be moved into Tracons and then to other terminal areas. If all 37,000 ground radios are replaced, the value of the contract could hit $580 million.