Mandates requiring business jet operators that fly to Europe to equip their aircraft for datalink communications with ATC are fast approaching. The price of non-compliance will be higher costs and longer trips as operators are forced to fly at sub-optimal altitudes and on less direct oceanic routes.
Flying the best altitudes and routes will require a datalink capability known as the Future Air Navigation System (Fans)–the somewhat ironic name for a system that airliners have used since the 1990s as an alternative to HF radio communications. Fans has two components: automatic dependent surveillance-contract (ADS-C) and controller pilot datalink communications (CPDLC). ADS-C is the automatic downlink of position reports on a contractual basis from an aircraft to a ground station; CPDLC provides for direct text messaging between pilots and controllers for flight reroutes, altitude changes or other instructions. In the oceanic environment, data is conveyed by the Iridium or Inmarsat satellite constellations.
In September, presenters at the fourth annual NxtLink Communications Conference hosted by satellite communications system manufacturer ICG (Booth No. 4176) in Williamsburg, Va. brought attention to the impending deadlines. Of the estimated 1,400 North Atlantic Track System (NATS) crossings daily, 6 percent, or about 84 crossings, are conducted by business aircraft, and only half of those are Fans-equipped, said Carey Miller, manager of business development with Universal Avionics (Booth No. 2500).
By next February, the two center tracks of the NATS between FL360 and FL390 will be closed to non-Fans traffic. By January 2014, aircraft crossing the Atlantic must be Fans-equipped with operational approval to be exempted from Europe’s Link 2000+ mandate, which requires aircraft operating in European airspace to be equipped for CPDLC using VHF Digital Link (VDL) Mode 2. Portions of North Atlantic minimum navigation performance specification airspace will close to non-Fans traffic in February 2015.
“A lot of operations, their optimum altitude is between 37 and 39–[Challenger] 601, Falcon 50, Falcon 900, GII, GIII. A lot of times [FL400] is not achievable because it’s too hot or they’re at gross weight,” Miller observed. “If they get shoved down below, at FL340 or FL350, a lot of these aircraft are going to be burning at least 10 percent more fuel. … Eventually by 2015, if you’re not Fans-equipped, you’re going to be burning a lot more fuel than you are today.”
Miller said the cost of non-compliance with Fans mandates will be that aircraft are prohibited from flying in core North Atlantic tracks initially, and eventually will be consigned to northerly “Blue Spruce” routes within range of VHF ground stations. He estimated that non-complying operators flying four North Atlantic trips a year could pay some $64,000 because of the longer distances, additional tech stops and unfavorable winds.
Speakers explained the two-step process of gaining approval to use Fans datalink communications for ATC, also known as air traffic services (ATS), beginning with design approval of the Fans 1/A equipment suite through an STC or manufacturer’s service bulletin. Unfortunately, there is no simple “Fans-in-a-box” solution. According to Miller’s presentation, needed equipment includes a flight management system software update; a communications management unit, an annunciator “cube” integrated into displays; an aural alert capability; a data-capable cockpit voice recorder (per FAA Advisory Circular 20-160); and a level-D satcom system. Advisory Circular 20-140A “provides one acceptable means of compliance” for type certificates and STCs involving datalink systems used for ATS.
The second step is to obtain operational approval ensuring that flight crews are trained and operations manuals, minimum equipment lists and procedures updated. “Approval to install a TC’d [type certified] or STC’d datalink communications system does not constitute authorization to use the system,” the FAA states in AC 120-70B. The operator must either request a revision to its operations specifications or a letter of authorization (LOA) from the FAA. Obtaining the LOA may take anywhere from several weeks to several months. The authorization may also involve a route demonstration, said Ann Heinke, of Loveland, Colo.-based Overlook Consulting. “To get your ops approval, you do have to demonstrate that the system works in the operational airspace,” she advised.
Heinke has assisted charter company Chicago Jet Group (Booth No. 3520) in obtaining an STC for a Fans 1/A datalink communications system on a Dassault Falcon 50. The system’s enabling components are a Universal Avionics UniLink UL-801 communications management unit, interfaced with dual Universal UNS-1Lw flight management systems and ICG’s ICS-220A Iridium voice and data transceiver.
The system proved itself in an operational setting on August 26. Chicago Jet Group president Mike Mitera flew the Falcon 50 from Goose Bay, Canada, to Reykjavik, Iceland, while monitored by Nav Canada’s Gander Area Control Center. Heinke said the STC was nearing approval. “We’re pretty excited about it because it really is the first retrofit of a non-OEM service bulletin airplane for Fans,” she said. o