FAA makes digital strides

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken another step in its long-term effort to upgrade communications between pilots and air traffic controllers by forging agreements with three companies.

Rockwell Collins Commercial Systems, Melbourne, Fla.; Honeywell Aerospace Electronic Systems, Redmond, Wash.; and Avidyne Corp., Lincoln, Mass., will develop VHF Digital Link Mode-3 services for the Next Generation Air/Ground Communications (Nexcom) program.

The VDL-3 avionics will provide multiple channels on one 25 KHz frequency assignment and will accommodate digital voice and data.

"It's going to provide more capability," said Carol Bell, FAA's deputy integrated product team leader for communications. "The whole world is going digital."

The agency launched Nexcom -- set for implementation in the latter part of 2009 -- in response to an increasing demand for space on a crowded radio spectrum. The FAA currently uses VHF and UHF links to direct aircraft in flight and at airports.

Last year the FAA awarded ITT Industries a contract worth up to $580 million to replace controllers' analog radios with digital ones.

In the recent agreements, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell will focus on commercial air carriers; Avidyne will concentrate on general aviation. Another agreement for business jets will be made in the upcoming months.

The FAA will make a separate source selection for a systems integrator in the future.

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