National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has started live flight testing of Datalink in altitudes below 28,500ft (FL285) between Bristol and Edinburgh, UK, to assess its use and benefits in lower airspace.
Datalink, which is mandatory in European airspace above FL285, is the set of instructions being exchanged between air traffic controllers and pilots, using data instead of voice communications.
The trials are also being conducted between Bristol and Rome Fiumicino and on four routes between Scotland and Scandinavia.
NATS is conducting the trials along with the Italian air navigation service provider ENAV, including Air France, EasyJet, SAS, Selex-SI, SITA, Airbus ProSky and Boeing.
Aimed at increasing capacity, reducing delays and improving efficiency, as well as enhancing safety while decreasing workload for controllers, the testing will run until June.
R&D senior engineer and NATS AFD flight demonstrations project manager John Haywood said: "NATS has already significantly invested in Datalink, rolling out the technology at our two centres Swanwick and Prestwick in August last year to ensure we are compliant with the Single European Sky mandate.
"However, this trial is pushing the boundaries of Datalink usage and if successful will allow for the benefits of Datalink to be realised in busy areas of airspace at far lower altitudes, positively impacting upon safety and efficiency."
Following its launch in November 2012, Datalink has been put through several trials to prove that it can efficiently and safely replace routine radio telephony (RT) communications at lower altitudes, leaving cluttered RT channels clear for abnormal situations.
More than ten successful flight trials have been carried out to date.
Image: NATS trials Datalink at lower altitudes. Photo: courtesy of NATS Limited.