Europe wins datalinking technology battle with USA

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International avionics specialists meeting at ICAO have unanimously rejected what they saw as a self-interested US move to sabotage the development of a Swedish-developed datalink for use in the Future Air Navigation System (FANS).

The US FAA delegation failed to persuade any other representatives to back its proposal to move the key "validation" process of the technology into a different panel - which would hold up its progress by a year or more.

Backers of the STDMA (self-organising, time-division, multiple-access) datalink, known as VDL-4 in ICAO terminology, are celebrating what they regard as a crucial victory in one of the fundamental fields of FANS-evolution.

Operator and CAA delegates interested in STDMA believe it could provide the optimum datalinking solution for the communications, navigation and surveillance elements of the FANS and accuse the USA of promoting the alternative Mode S datalink simply to back its national industrial interests. The USA is the world-leader in Mode S work but has very little expertise in STDMA.

A European airline official involved in STDMA research and development says: "This was an excellent result. The US proposal was very serious and it was just to protect their industry."

The decision to continue with VDL-4 validation was taken at the fifth meeting of ICAO's Aeronautical Mobile Communications Panel (AMCP/5) and followed the intervention of the Association of European Airlines (AEA) and the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC).

'Validation' is the process gone through to lead to the production of ICAO standards and recommended procedures (SARPS) - the document that lays the ground for real-life use of any given technology by individual nations.

The STDMA camp is doubly pleased following the panel's additional decision to investigate the use of VDL-4 as part of the aeronautical telecommunications network (ATN) - the overarching global communications concept designed to bring seamless data communication to the air transport world. That move, however, was less comprehensively backed, with a substantial minority of delegates dissenting.