FAA Retains SITA as its Aircraft Communications Provider

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Oceanic program has retained SITA as its future air navigation system (FANS) aircraft datalink service provider for a third successive five-year term, it was announced today by SITA at the Air Traffic Control Association’s 54th Annual Conference in Washington.

SITA provides this FAA service through its global AIRCOM network of VHF stations and satellite operators, which is also used for airline operational communications by over 9,000 aircraft.

The FAA has made use of the SITA AIRCOM FANS datalink service since 1999 to deliver airspace user benefits in terms of safety and efficiency such as flight path conformance monitoring. The SITA service enables the exchange of FANS datalink messages between the cockpit and the FAA’s Anchorage, Oakland, and New York air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) which cover portions of the Pacific and Atlantic ocean flight information regions.

Designed in the early 1990s, the FANS datalink applications are Automatic Dependant Surveillance – Contract (ADS-C) and Controller Pilot Datalink Communications (CPDLC). FANS avionics are on most AIRBUS and Boeing long haul aircraft. They are estimated to be on approximately 75% of flights in the North Atlantic, where ICAO plans to mandate aircraft carriage of FANS avionics from 2015.

ADS-C enables the ARTCC automation to ‘contract’ suitably equipped aircraft to downlink their position and possibly other information over satellite on a periodic basis; this is typically every 30min, thus enabling a pseudo radar-type service over oceanic and remote airspace. ADS-Broadcast (ADS-B), in which aircraft broadcast their position directly to be picked up by any receivers within line-of-sight, is not usable for oceanic/remote airspace for flight tracking.

CPDLC enables pilots and controllers to exchange pre-defined and, if appropriate, free text messages over the satellite service and thus avoids reliance on the notoriously poor quality of high-frequency voice services that would otherwise traditionally be used.

Since its introduction in 1999 the FAA’s confidence in the use of the service has grown to the point that today the FAA advises that flights use ADS-C for position reporting and CPDLC for all other ATC communications while in the New York Oceanic area. Similarly, since 2007 the Oakland ARTCC has introduced 30 nautical miles lateral and 30 nautical miles longitudinal separation between appropriately equipped and authorized aircraft, which include the requirement to be FANS equipped.

Since the South Pacific region’s introduction of FANS datalink applications in the mid-1990s, implementation has progressively grown to cover all oceanic/remote regions including Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, the Indian Ocean, the Central and North Pacific cean, and the Atlantic Ocean. SITA today delivers its AIRCOM FANS datalink service to the vast majority of the air navigation service providers around the world that have implemented this technology.

While FANS-1/A was intended to operate over satellite services there are a number of air navigation service providers that either plan to use, or are already making use of, the capability to deliver the service via VHF data links in continental airspace. The best example is the Eurocontrol Maastricht upper area control centre, which has been delivering FANS-1/A services over SITA’s analogue VHF service for over ten years and more recently over SITA’s VHF digital link (VDL) Mode 2 service.

Philip Clinch, vice-president of SITA’s aircraft communications and air transport industry messaging division, said: “The FAA already has a NextGen system in its oceanic airspace. SITA is delighted to have been retained by the FAA to deliver the FANS service for the third consecutive five-year term after a competitive tendering process. The FAA is, without a doubt, one of our flagship AIRCOM FANS datalink customers and to be selected again is a testament to SITA’s continuous improvements in service delivery, cost optimization and customer services. The FAA can rest assured that SITA will support the expansion of datalink technology into the domestic NextGen systems.”

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