Technical Overview: Communications

Overview of Mandates and Deployment Activities

  • Europe: There are two mandates that impact aircraft communications for operations into Europe:
    1. Voice Communication on 8.33kHz: Due to frequency allocation problems, there is a long, ongoing transition from 25kHz voice radios to 8.33kHz capable voice radios in Europe. The initial transition to the modern radios occurred in 1999 for flights above FL245. Europe in 2012 established a transition for new aircraft, in 2013, and additional requirement in airspace below FL195 for aircraft to be equipped with 8.33kHz capable radios.
    2. Data Link Communications: The European mandate for data communications capability in airspace above FL285 has been suspended due to technical issues encountered (so called “provider aborts” by which operators lost contact to the network). A technical review of the issues causing the provider aborts has been completed and it has been determined that a multi-channel data communications service infrastructure will be needed to support operations. It is expected that a rulemaking process will be launched in late 2017 to define the new requirements for ground and airborne equipage.
  • North Atlantic Tracks (NAT): The requirements to operate in oceanic airspace include communications, navigation and surveillance capabilities. The requirements for advanced data communications are airspace and altitude based. The initial requirements entered into effect in 2015 (FL350-FL390 inclusive on organized track system) and expand further in 2017 (FL350-FL290 throughout the NAT Region), and January 30, 2020, (above FL290 throughout the NAT Region). Enhanced ATC surveillance and communication will be provided via FANS 1/A (or equivalent) data link systems. Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS-C) will provide route conformance monitoring, periodic aircraft reporting and controller alerts for Lateral Deviation Events (LDE) and vertical deviation events (Level Range Deviation Events (LRDE). Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) will enhance ATC intervention and communication capabilities.
  • United States: The FAA has completed deployment of tower services (departure clearance) at 56 towers as of late 2016 and an additional seven towers are under consideration including key general aviation facilities such as TEB and VNY. The FAA will also deploy initial enroute services starting in 2019 and full operational capability at all 20 centers in 2021.

Current Equipage Trends

  • Most, if not all, in-production business jets have data link capability as an available option from the factory.
  • FAA data, assembled by Harris, shows that 1,129 general aviation airplanes had used data link services in the United States as of April 2017, primarily business jet models, but also some turboprop models.

Examples of Benefits

  • North Atlantic Tracks: More stringent navigation and communication requirements in the North Atlantic has enabled 25 nm aircraft separation compared to 100 nm a decade ago thereby increasing capacity between the United States and Europe.
  • United States tower operations: Experience since the tower services became available in 2016 show significant reductions in clearance delivery for equipped aircraft compared to unequipped aircraft during weather events including at key general aviation airports such as TEB.

Data Sources