SITA and the Sydney Airport Corporation (SACL), in collaboration with a major international carrier, are conducting a series of operational trials at Sydney International Airport to demonstrate the benefits of SITA’s planned AIRCOM IP GateLink service for new-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and newer variants of the Boeing 777.
AIRCOM IP GateLink is intended to provide global broadband wireless connectivity on the ground during aircraft turnarounds and layovers. This service will allow airlines and airports to take full advantage of the operational benefits of these new aircraft types by automating labor-intensive and time-consuming processes to retrieve and load large volumes of aircraft systems’ data, which cannot be transmitted cost-efficiently using traditional data link services such as aircraft communication addressing and reporting system (ACARS).
The AIRCOM IP GateLink trials are primarily aimed at evaluating the technical, operational and commercial aspects of offering this service on a wider scale for all parties involved. The initial phase of the trial in Sydney focused on the 777 aircraft and has been underway since mid-2009. A second phase, which adds the A380 fleet, began last week when an A380 aircraft successfully completed a broadband wireless communications session during a routine turnaround in Sydney.
Despite their design and physical differences, both 777 and A380 fleets must share the same radio and network infrastructure. This required a great deal of ingenuity on the part of SITA and SACL, and it makes the A380 debut a major milestone of the trials.
The use of ground-based broadband wireless communications to improve airline operations and reduce costs has long been a desire of airlines. However, it has never been used, or even tested, with new-generation aircraft in an operational environment outside passenger airlines’ own hubs, mainly because it requires a great deal of third-party coordination and collaboration. This not only makes the AIRCOM IP GateLink trials an industry first, but also a significant step in the advancement of commercial aircraft communications and operations.
Philip Clinch, SITA vice-president for aircraft services, said: “This initiative will help ready us, and our customers, for the arrival of electronic flight bags as well as other modern avionics systems and cockpit applications that generate and consume large amounts of data. The investment to provide standard services to multiple aircraft fleets in airports around the world requires a community approach to overcome the launch phase, with only a handful of aircraft ready to use this service. SITA’s investment is a key component in enabling the airlines’ business case to use aircraft broadband wireless connectivity.”
Airlines are increasingly expressing interest in worldwide access to airports’ wireless infrastructure to communicate with their back-office systems. Clinch added: “through this trial we are laying a strong foundation for the AIRCOM IP GateLink service, which will eliminate the complexities associated with airlines having to deal with individual local airport authorities and wireless network operators to secure this access.”
SITA is actively pursuing discussions with airlines and airports around the world to increase the cross-section of participants and locations of the AIRCOM IP GateLink trials. Towards the end of these trials, SITA will unveil plans to offer the commercial AIRCOM IP GateLink service.