Eurocontrol upgrades cockpit/ATC datalink

 - August 4, 2008, 11:58 AM

Eurocontrol has introduced a new screen-to-screen datalink between pilots and air traffic controllers at its Maastricht upper-area control (UAC) center in the Netherlands. The controller-pilot datalink communication (CPDLC) system supplements existing voice contact by allowing text messages between screens in the cockpit and on the ground to reduce workload at both ends. The new procedure should also free congested voice channels for more urgent communication.

“Eurocontrol’s Maastricht UAC handles 1.2 million flights a year and up to 4,000 flights on peak days. With the number of civil airplanes in Europe’s skies set to double in the next 20 years, it was very clear to us that unless we could simplify standard voice communication between controllers and pilots, we would face serious safety and capacity issues,” said Eurocontrol director general Victor Aguado.

CPDLC messaging is relayed via screens, using a mouse and Windows-based software with predefined menus. Each message exchange takes an average of 47 seconds.

Initially, the new system will be used mainly for non-urgent messages, such as requests to check microphones, instructions to fly direct to a given point or questions about aircraft identification parameters. As the technology matures, Eurocontrol will gradually increase the complexity of the messages sent via CPDLC.

The European ATC agency is already planning to extend CPDLC to other centers by 2007. This will probably start at facilities in France and Germany, followed by Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. The Maastricht UAC is responsible for all traffic in the upper airspace (above 24,500 feet) of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northwest Germany.

Arinc has been appointed as Eurocontrol’s datalink service provider for the CPDLC program. The Annapolis, Md.-based group is installing 12 VHF datalink mode 2 (VDL-2) ground stations this year to support the system expansion.

Meanwhile, Eurocontrol has also just introduced a new version of the European aeronautical information services database for pilots. The database, which is delivered to users online, covers the 41 states of the European Civil Aviation Conference and uses a multi-level data-consistency checking system to ensure the real-time integrity of the information it presents.