Datalink pioneers hope to avoid international split

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US and European proponents of the satellite based automatic dependent surveillance - broadcast (ADS-B) system believe they can avoid the duplication and delay that has marked the development of satellite navigation systems.

ADS is the concept that uses datalinks to transmit Global Positioning System (GPS) based position and intent data for display in other aircraft and to controllers.

The two major development projects are the North European ADS-B Network Update Programme (NUP) and the US cargo airlines association's (CAA) which are similar but have significant differences - notably in their approach to the selection of competing datalink technologies.

Airline members of the teams, however, told the Flight International Air Navigation Conference that they were confident of finding a way through the politics surrounding the datalink issue.

Captain Craig Bowers of the advanced flight projects office of CAA member UPS Airlines says: "From the communications standpoint we really don't care. What we care about is the functionality. But I am sure it is going to get to be a very sticky situation when the rubber hits the road and we have to decide exactly which boxes are going to go on the aircraft.

"We can get supporters of all these datalinks at the table and figure out at least a recommendation on the link configuration.

"The CAA is upholding its part of the bargain, at some cost I might add, and I would hope that within the next year something will come through in terms of a recommendation on the link. I am sure politics will come into it and clearly the link is going to be an issue."

Lars Lindberg, president of NUP consultants Avtech Sweden, says: "When it comes down to the job then the network is only a small piece - the big piece is the software. The cost of the link will be only about five per cent."

Lindberg says however that a problem does exist with the development of the ADS-B standards which are crucial to the successful fielding of an operational system.

He notes that the US radio technical commission on aeronautics (RTCA) has an effective procedure for putting standards in place whereas its approximate equivalent in Europe - Eurocae - is less well equipped to perform the same role.

For the US FAA, international technical programme manager Joe Fee says: "The FAA tends to work with Europe to make the decision first of all on how to evaluate the link and then to work on going forward with them.

"The first of those is really simple and the second brings more baggage. We don't have a horse in the race and we just want to get it done without any of our customers being upset."