Monday, December 22, 2014

CPDLC - Connecting 40% of the pilots to 70% of the controllers

I read this article from Woodrow Bellamy, Avionics Magazine, updating status of CPDLC programs and professing voice congestion was a growing concern and required benefit from CPDLC

(controller - pilot data link communication)

Advancing CPDLC

Citing programs such as European mandates under Single European Sky (SES), FedEx and American Airlines NextGen trials at Newark and Memphis, Canadian Area Control Centers, and North Atlantic Tracks, I am encouraged but frustrated, because...
"...technical difficulties for Air Traffic Management (ATM) to ensure proper functioning of the infrastructure that allows controllers to receive and exchange pre-defined CPDLC messages, and, of course, challenges on the user side with equipage costs and pilot training for the new technology..."
These seem weak arguments given that most of what is needed was defined more than 15 years ago.
"...mandate would come into effect in February 2015, requiring legacy aircraft flying in European airspace to be retrofitted with CPDLC avionics. However, a number of unforeseen technical and economic challenges have forced the European Commission to discuss the now more likely possibility of delaying that mandate by five years. The delay is the result of an investigation into the use of CPDLC in European airspace by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which concluded that only 40 percent of operators would be ready to use the technology by February 2015, and that only about 70 percent of the necessary ground infrastructure to facilitate data link communications between controllers and pilots would be ready to use by then as well, according to the European Regions Airline Association (ERAA)..."
So after all this time, 30% of the controllers and 60% of the airplanes are not equipped.  This is leading to a request for a five year extension to the mandates.
"...Craig Peterson, director of air transport avionics marketing at Rockwell Collins, who also discussed some of the challenges facing the European program. “There was a pioneer phase of CPDLC where a certain number of pre-deployments and pre-equipages were undertaken and those there were discoveries made, and there were evolutions made, and they went pretty well. But when mass deployment became the phase of the program, there were some challenges that were encountered around frequency congestion..."
2015 marks 20 years since FANS-1 was certificated. 

The benefits of data link and automation over voice and manual procedures has long been heralded as a key benefit.  Seriously all the way to the 1970s! 

While mandates are helpful in moving the herd reluctantly to invest, the carrot of fuel savings, larger revenues, or higher profit margins creates the business case for upgrades. 

At least, it did for getting FANS-1 approved for gross-weight limited South Pacific operations, where flight plan updates inflight could make the difference in taking on more cargo/passengers over fuel. 

Without that clear business case (increased revenue, not fuel savings), we never would have gotten Boeing and the four ATSPs to invest. 

I don't see congestion on the voice channels as being nearly as compelling. 

Partly what holds us back is that we have to keep chasing standards that evolve in different regions and much to the whim of committees, politicians, unions, and budgets. 

We have lived for decades in denial that ACARS is perfectly fine, in preference to standards that are irrelevant in todays networking, or even if relevant, for example ATN-IPS, still leagues ahead of equipage in both radios and end-systems. 

As an industry we limp along far underperforming from what we could do with what we have already. 

The airlines and general aviation will respond in droves if the air traffic providers get their act together, but instead each side feeds on each other's shortcomings, leaving everyone wanting. 

Opportunity lost every day, and I am not holding my breath.

I am frustrated that as an industry we keep putting up barriers to entry instead of making the most of what we have. 

If we wanted, we could have deployed CPDLC by year 2000 to all aircraft, 
  • we would have conceded ACARS as the bearer, 
  • and some procedural forgiveness to shortcomings in assurance levels and user interface. 

Instead the market was fragmented chasing 0SI - x.25. 

I am thankful we can finally converge on ATN-IPS decades later. 

But for most, it's the standoff between operator and air traffic provider, each wanting the other to invest, and each jumping all over the others failings. 

I chaired a satellite voice working group for RTCA, and we professed all sorts of good ideas, especially integrating the data link and voice connection management. Again 20 years ago. 

Yet today, we are excited to replace HF voice with sat voice, but through a radio operator that must in tandem contact the controller...when we could just as easily call the controller directly. 

What drives that thinking? See RCP400. 

We don't take the easy road as an industry, we deny ourselves capabilities in exchange for pursuit of perfection. 

I remain convinced that there is benefit in a connected airplane, for air traffic, for the operator, and for the passenger. 

I applaud all the work worldwide in advancing this objective, glacial and frustrating as it can be, 25 years has hardly moved the needle. 

I am doing everything I can to connect/promote broadband radios to divert AAC traffic from the VHF and L-band safety channels. 

We have a growing portfolio of IP capable connections that can deliver much higher capacity at much lower rates. 

Today, we have to deal with network security and elevated assurance levels over sinister threats. 

By the way, do you remember the first crisis over voice congestion, when pre departure clearance got ahead of itself, and the FAA could not go back to voice at some super busy airports? 

That evolved into ARINC 623, AOC. 

There is a great model!

Peter Lemme

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