FAA expands data service eastward
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- May 29, 2000
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
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,
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