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Data Comm: The Next Step in the FAA NextGen Roadmap

Sep 27, 2018
Robert Randall, U.S. Senior Sales Manager

Robert Randall

Robert Randall is the U.S. Senior Sales Manager at Universal Avionics. Robert is a Navy veteran with 40 years in aviation. He is also experienced in various aerospace segments of retrofit and OEM sales, and military aircraft avionics modification. Robert is currently on the Board of the Arizona Business Aviation Association and an FAA Delegate for the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA).

You have most likely heard the term ‘FANS’ or ‘Future Air Navigation System’ if you operate in oceanic routes, where it’s required. However, have you heard of Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC)? It’s much larger than FANS and it’s in place and enabled today, continuing to expand across the nation as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) works toward its NextGen initiatives.

Data Communications (Data Comm) CPDLC is for operators who may not operate in FANS airspace and offers benefits outside of it.

Oftentimes, when educating pilots about NextGen Data Comm with the opening topic of FANS, it is immediately dismissed as only required for those operating in FANS airspace. Data Comm IS CPDLC and it includes FANS and Departure Clearances (DCL) which afford pilots the benefit of requesting departure clearances through the onboard Communications Management Unit (CMU). Universal Avionics manufactures the UniLink™ UL-800/801 CMU, allowing the pilot to take advantage of CPDLC DCL technology which generally puts them in the front of the line and eliminates the need to wait for radio breaks to submit their departure request. Simply perform a digital “text” message over the VHF spectrum through a LOS VHF radio interfaced with the UniLink CMU. The UniLink UL-801 CMU model has an integral VHF Comm radio to provide the communication link. No additional data rates apply

The following is an overview of Data Comm from the FAA’s website:

The Data Comm program provides data communications services between pilots and air traffic controllers. Data Comm provides a digital link between ground automation and flight deck avionics for safety-of-flight air traffic control clearances, instructions, traffic flow management, flight crew requests and reports. Data Comm is critical to the success of NextGen operational improvements by providing communication infrastructure enhancements and will:

  • Reduce delays and provide more efficient routes for aircraft;
  • Improve controller and pilot efficiency leading to increased system throughput;
  • Enhance safety by reducing operational errors associated with voice communication;
  • Reduce the impact of ground delays due to congestion and adverse weather;
  • Reduce environmental impact due to less fuel burn and emissions; and
  • Enable NextGen services (e.g., enhanced re-routes, trajectory operations)

Data Comm will deliver these above improvements to the National Airspace System (NAS) in two segments:

Segment 1

  • Segment 1 provides an initial set of Data Comm services integrated with automation support tools to provide NAS benefits and lay the foundation for a data-driven NAS.
  • Segment 1 Phase 1 (S1P1) has completed deployment of the CPDLC DCL in the Tower domain.
  • Segment 1 Phase 2 (S1P2) will deliver data communications services to the En Route domain. The Data Comm En Route services will contribute to provide a reduction in flight delays, and more efficient routes for aircraft resulting in increased operational efficiency and enhanced safety while reducing operational costs for airspace users.

Segment 2

Segment 2 further builds upon CPDLC DCL and En Route services by supporting the delivery of services to enable more advanced NextGen operations not possible using voice communications, such as four-dimensional trajectories and advanced flight interval management. Data Comm will also implement an Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) ground system to support advanced Baseline 2 (B2) avionics. ATN is a secure architecture that allows ground/ground, air/ground, and avionic data sub-networks to interoperate by adopting common interface services and protocols. The Baseline 2 set of ATN standards, which will enable advanced operations and services, represents the internationally harmonized standard for Data Comm avionics.

As of this writing there are currently 62 U.S. airports equipped to communicate CPDLC DCL and Pre-Departure Clearances (PDC). This number is expected to grow over the next year.

Don’t get left behind, contact your maintenance provider today to see what your options are to take the next step along the NextGen roadmap.


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