The future is now—CPDLC mandate affects international bizav operations
FANS requirements now affect many regions worldwide.
By Stuart Lau
ATP/FE/CFII. Boeing 747/747-400, 757/767, CRJ, Saab 340
Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR)—the transatlantic equivalent of FAA's NextGen—increases capacity, improves safety and saves money by leveraging FANS/CPDLC concepts. Here, specialists at Maastricht Upper Air Control Center—operated by Eurocontrol—manage aircraft high above Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northwestern Germany.
Business aviation operators are being required to evaluate the navigation and communications capabilities of current and future aircraft. This comes as a result of the Feb 2013 mandate for Future Air Navigation System/Controller–Pilot Datalink Communications (FANS/CPDLC) on the optimal tracks and altitudes across the North Atlantic and other looming implementation dates for similar avionics equipage levels around the world.
FANS/CPDLC—specifically FANS 1/A—is at the center of a global air traffic management (ATM) modernization effort. It changes the communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) elements of flight operations, and it does so significantly—first in oceanic areas, then in other regions such as continental Europe and the US National Airspace System (NAS).
Today, FANS/CPDLC is required in the 2 center lanes of the structured North Atlantic Track System (NATS) between FL360 and 390. By 2015 it will be required in European airspace above FL285 (under the Link 2000+ rule) and may be required in the rest of the North Atlantic
Minimum Navigation Performance Specification (MNPS) airspace, which already requires the highest standards of vertical and horizontal navigation performance. Beyond these mandates, the scenario is evolving constantly. According to Duncan Aviation Senior Avionics Sales Mgr Justin Vena, "the best equipped aircraft will be the best served in the future and [will] benefit from optimum routings and altitudes.
"At some point," he says, "those aircraft not FANS/CPDLC equipped over the North Atlantic will have to fly the northern 'Blue Spruce' Gander routes." These more circuitous routings require more fuel and time, which increases costs and reduces the amount of payload on each crossing.
FANS/CPDLC represents the key datalink solution for future global ATM systems. ATM modernization initiated by the US and EU provides significant benefits at reduced cost to operators.
According to Eurocontrol, a modernized ATM ecosystem facilitates a threefold increase in capacity and a 50% reduction in air navigation cost, while reducing an aircraft's environmental impact by up to 10% per flight. FAA projects its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) will save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and 14 million tons of CO2 by 2018, while reducing delays by 35%.
A business case for bizjets
Universal Avionics' Challenger 601-3A has been upgraded to meet all FANS/CPDLC requirements. CPDLC functions are mainly integrated in the FMS control display units (center pedestal) and most other FANS components are installed behind the scenes in the avionics rack. The UniLink 800/801 CMU also enables graphic and textual weather to be uplinked to the flightdeck.
The concepts of FANS/CPDLC are not new. In 1996, the first FANS routes were flown over the Pacific by Air New Zealand, Qantas and United Airlines using Boeing 747-400s. Today, it's a widely used practice—primarily by airlines.
For example, out of the nearly 400 daily North Atlantic crossings, approximately 45% are flown by FANS-equipped aircraft. With the exception of a few Boeing BBJs and other ultralong-range types, the business jet community has not taken full advantage of the FANS infrastructure.
The business case for installing FANS/CPDLC equipment on long-range business jets has been validated by the airlines. Benefits include reduced fuel burn and flight times through more efficient routing resulting in increased payloads. In addition, bizjet operators may benefit from more efficient route changes, direct routings, satellite communications and reduced user fees.
In practice, CPDLC largely replaces voice communications with a text-based messaging system. As with "texting," controllers and pilots exchange canned messages for routine (and a limited number of nonroutine) tasks, such as "Climb to FL350" or a microphone check. This greatly reduces workload for pilot and controller alike. Studies suggest that controller workload will be reduced by half, which equates to an 11% increase in upper airspace capacity when 75% of the participating aircraft are equipped. Pilots are expected to experience a similar reduction in workload and fatigue.
In international ops, much of a pilot's fatigue is due to radiotelephony—the task of monitoring radio transmissions—and is often exacerbated by having to decipher multiple transmissions in broken "aviation English" over static-laden HF frequencies.
As a case in point, Universal Avionics Pres & CEO Ted Naimer, a strong proponent of CPDLC, provides this account of his experiences before and after CPDLC when flying between São Paulo, Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa in the company Bombardier Challenger 601.
Prior to CPDLC, Naimer would attempt to contact "Atlántico" on HF while coasting out over the South Atlantic. "After up to 5 unsuccessful attempts to report your position on the primary frequency (3476) with only static being the answer, you begin to wonder, 'Do they hear you and you don't hear them? Do they not hear you at all? Are they on coffee break?'"
Naimer continues, "So you try the secondary frequency (5565), only to get similar results. Only now you hear a bunch of other transmissions—Dakar, Port Moresby, Johannesburg, Luanda all use the same frequency—as well.
Then you very faintly hear your call sign and assume it is Atlántico. So you make your position report some 25 minutes after you passed the position [and] they come back with something you do not really understand. So it's 'Atlántico, say again, say again!' They do. Your SELCAL doesn't trigger the first time. 'Negative SELCAL, negative SELCAL—try again!'"
According to Naimer, each subsequent attempt at communicating was equally frustrating—from the SELCAL check to the next request for a position report.
Recalling a later trip, after Universal's Challenger had been FANS/ CPDLC equipped—including the UniLink UL800/801 communications management unit (CMU)—Naimer's account of using CPDLC describes a far more efficient and relaxed flight.
"Coasting out from Brazil, you log on to SBAO [the ATS facilities notification (AFN) identifier for Atlántico] via CPDLC, see log-on confirmation, CPDLC active, call Atlántico once for a SELCAL check and you're in business. At the next FIR [flight information region], where UniLink automatically changes to FACT [the AFN identifier for Cape Town), you verify communications with one glance, do a quick SELCAL check with Johannesburg and you're done."