Chicago Jet Receives FAA Approval for First FANS-over-Iridium STC
Chicago Jet Group has received the first-ever FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) for a future air navigation system (FANS) 1/A+ and controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) retrofit. The FANS/CPDLC system is installed in a Dassault Falcon 50 managed by Chicago Jet and also represents the first FANS-over-Iridium retrofit for a business jet. FANS capability will be required for flying the most efficient tracks across the North Atlantic, and this retrofit not only enables that capability but also meets the upcoming Eurocontrol Link 2000+ mandates. These mandates kick in on Feb. 5, 2015.
Chicago Jet worked closely with Universal Avionics, which provided its UniLink UL-801 communications management unit (CMU), flight management systems (FMS) and CVR-120A cockpit voice recorder for the retrofit. The CVR is required for recording datalink messages. An International Communications Group (ICG) NxtLink ICS-220A Iridium satcom supplies a dedicated voice channel and also a datalink channel for ACARS, FANS 1/A+ messaging and CPDLC. The systems are interfaced with dual Universal UNS-1Lw FMSs.
“I’m sitting on cloud nine right now,” said Mike Mitera, Chicago Jet Group director of operations. The STC for the Falcon 50 was a first and major step for FANS/CPDLC capability, he pointed out, but operators also need to obtain an FAA letter of authorization (LOA) to use the equipment in flight. Chicago Jet expected to receive its LOA prior to the NBAA show, although that might have been delayed by the government shutdown. By early October, Chicago Jet had already completed its second Falcon 50 FANS/CPDLC installation, this one on a customer airplane.
What is significant about the Chicago Jet STC is not only that it is the first FANS retrofit, but also that the STC is built on the Iridium satcom system. The Gulfstream G650 and Bombardier Globals are FANS-ready from the factory, but using Inmarsat satcom. Future STCs that Chicago Jet plans will also use the Universal UniLink and CVR and ICG NxtLink Iridium satcom.
Iridium makes sense for the FANS/CPDLC application, Mitera explained, because the network offers true worldwide coverage and isn’t as affected by weather as Inmarsat satcom. “Inmarsat may be an option and they’ve done it that way for years because Iridium was not an option,” he explained. “But I think Iridium is the true solution for the long term; it has global worldwide coverage and costs way less than Inmarsat.”
Although Dassault and Gulfstream obtained exemptions for the LINK 2000+ mandate on legacy aircraft, this applies only to operations in Europe, Mitera explained. “You still have to have this equipment to get from the U.S. to Europe,” he said. “You’re going to be a second-class citizen if you don’t have this equipment, when everyone else is operating in this datalink airspace above 28,000 feet. You will probably be forced to fly lower altitudes or a longer path [like the Blue Spruce routes]. You’re going to have to explain to the owner why you’re stopping in Keflavik.”
Chicago Jet has already begun working on its next FANS-over-Iridium STC, which will be for the Falcon 900 series, and this is expected in the first quarter of 2014. The company is also working on a Gulfstream GIV STC. “We’ve got a few other airplanes that people have contacted us about,” Mitera said. “Bombardier has contacted me about the Challengers 604. I’ve got a stack of people to follow up with.”
A Chicago Jet affiliate, Kobev International, has set up a training program to teach pilots how to fly with FANS/CPDLC equipment and also to obtain the necessary LOA from the FAA. Mitera and Ann Heinke, who serves on industry committees that address datalink issues, formed Kobev, naming it after the intersection off the coast of Newfoundland where the North Atlantic tracks typically begin. “Ann helped write the book on CPDLC and FANS,” Mitera said.