The leading specialist in air transport communications, SITA, has announced that it is now processing two million messages per day for more than 10,000 user aircraft, airline operations centres, air traffic control, and aircraft and engine manufacturers.
The airline industry standard cockpit aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) messages are critical to the safety and the operation of the world’s aircraft and are supported by data link processing centres in Montreal and Singapore and an extensive network of over 1,200 VHF ground stations.
Demand for the SITA service has doubled in five years and the new generation aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787, still have ACARS systems for their flight-critical communications in parallel with their new generation electronic flight bags.
Pilots and cockpit systems use ACARS primarily to communicate with airline flight operations and aircraft maintenance departments as well as with air traffic control. Critical routing information is sent by air traffic control through controller pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) over future air navigation systems (FANS) using ACARS. Weather updates or new flight plans can be requested by the crew. ACARS also supports real-time engine monitoring by delivering data to aircraft and engine manufacturers.
Philip Clinch, SITA vice president, aircraft communication services, said: “Even as we look towards the introduction of a new aeronautical telecommunications network protocol for air traffic control data link and aircraft IP links for electronic flight bags, ACARS is so embedded in aircraft that it is set to remain the communications backbone of aviation for another 15 to 20 years.
“ACARS has been using Inmarsat satellites for 20 years and demand is now likely to grow significantly following the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of the use of Iridium satellite communications for mission-critical applications. This will allow more aircraft to use satellite ACARS for air traffic control communications enabling denser airspace operations over oceans while maintaining safety. We are confident that we can continue to meet the growing demand.”
ACARS avionics have evolved over 30 years with airline needs and have been continuously stretched to provide increasing capabilities. New emerging protocols including ICAO standard ATN and AIRCOM IP over broadband radio links are being implemented in parallel to ACARS. SITA invests over US$10m annually in expanding the network and building application technologies to support the use of the data transmitted to and from the aircraft.