A recently issued ICAO North Atlantic Systems Planning Group NAT OPS Bulletin revises the North Atlantic datalink mandate, putting an upper limit of FL410 on operations in the North Atlantic Track (NAT) region starting Jan. 30, 2020. Datalink (generally FANS-1/A equipment) is now required from FL350 to FL390 in the NAT region, and until this bulletin (revision 4) was released and became effective on July 9, there was no cap on the altitude.
Starting January 30, 2020, the datalink mandate changes from FL290 to no specific altitude limit, to the new FL290-to-FL410 cap in the NAT region, and this is good news for operators of certain airplanes.
For older airframes, Gulfstream’s GIV and GV, Bombardier Globals, and the Citation X, for example, are able to climb above FL410 before reaching NAT airspace, unless the outside temperature is abnormally warmer than typical. And an airplane that can achieve that performance can dispense with having expensive FANS equipment installed. If an operator doesn’t have to install FANS, this could extend the lifespan of older and less valuable airframes.
Of course, these aircraft still require ADS-B Out by midnight Dec. 31, 2019. But ADS-B Out provides an additional benefit for North Atlantic operations, in that Aireon’s space-based ADS-B network running on Iridium’s Next satellite network will allow controllers to track such aircraft, even if they aren’t FANS-equipped.