FAA expands data service eastward

Pilots flying aircraft over the Atlantic and Pacific coasts now have the

equivalent of e-mail for direct communications with air traffic controllers.

In the next step to modernizing the rudimentary systems pilots and controllers

use to communicate while an aircraft travels over the ocean, the Federal

Aviation Administration has begun using an electronic air-to-ground communication

system for aircraft flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

The same system, known as the Multi-Sector Oceanic Data Link, has been

operating for aircraft flying over Pacific Ocean airspace for more than

a year. Lexington, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. designed the system, which is

now installed at the Oakland, Calif., and New York Air Traffic Control centers.

Atlantic Ocean airspace controllers in New York began a limited use

of the system at a single sector in March. Operations are planned at all

Caribbean sectors later this year, and once it is fully operational in that

region, the FAA will transition it to New York's North Atlantic sectors.

Full Atlantic coverage will include New York, Canada, Iceland and the

United Kingdom, said John Trail, manager of FAA systems at Raytheon. Trail

is responsible for Raytheon's command, control, communications and intelligence

business.

Oceanic Data Link will replace the old system in which controllers and

pilots communicated via a high-frequency radio voice link relayed through

a third party. The new system is a much cleaner, more reliable, data-based

system that uses satellite and very high-frequency links, said Dan Horton,

FAA product team leader for the system.

The system was designed to be better integrated with the flight data

processor and to improve the efficiency of controllers. It operates with

aircraft equipped for the Future Air Navigation System, an international

standard for avionics that is compliant with Oceanic Data Link.

Based on commercial hardware and operating systems, Oceanic Data Link

is designed to be able to keep running even if some components of the system

fail. If the full computer systems fail, Oceanic Data Link will switch to

an identical backup system.

Raytheon also added safety features such as a backup capability that

allows the controller to continue communications in a standalone mode if

the flight data processor fails.

"A lot of airlines want more immediate communication, more direct communication

with the controllers," Trail said. Because of the increasing amount of air

traffic, the time savings and efficiency of direct messaging is significant,

Horton said.

The faster controllers can grant routing requests by directly communicating

with pilots, the more quickly those aircraft will be able to move through

the airspace, creating more room for more aircraft. If controllers can accommodate

more flights, they will be able to make much more efficient use of airspace,

which will save on fuel costs for airlines and increase the number of flights

in the air at a given time.

The completion of Oceanic Data Link implementation paves the way for

the FAA's procurement of a new platform for oceanic air traffic control,

the Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures system [FCW, Dec. 20, 1999].

ATOP will involve integrating Oceanic Data Link with other new technologies,

such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance, the Global Positioning System,

and updated hardware and software in the Air Traffic Control centers, according

to Nancy Graham, the FAA's Oceanic and Offshore Integrated Product Team

leader.

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