Plans to roll out controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) across the USA have been set back by the current financial crisis. The US Federal Aviation Administration will proceed with flight trials of CPDLC in Miami airspace next year, but has told service provider ARINC that nationwide deployment will be delayed.

Fewer aircraft than planned will participate in the operational evaluation beginning in June next year. American Airlines will provide four Boeing 767-300s, which are participating in European trials of CPDLC and are already fitted with VHF Data Link Mode 2 (VDL-2) radios, but will not provide Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 757-200s as originally planned. ARINC is still hopeful other US carriers will provide aircraft for the trial.

The Miami trial will involve an initial set of four CPDLC message services, known as Build 1 and a precursor to the expanded Build 1A which the FAA intends to deploy nationwide. Despite the airlines' financial woes, "it is essential we stay on track with Build 1," says Mike Harrison, FAA director, architecture and system engineering.

American is installing datalink radios in new 757s, to allow it to use ARINC's ACARS airline operational datalink service via VDL-2, but has decided not to install software to support CPDLC. Continental Airlines' plans to install VDL-2 for ACARS have been set back, says ARINC. "The airlines don't have the money to equip their aircraft," says Victor Nagowski, senior director future communications.

ARINC programme director John Burns believes US airline plans to equip their aircraft with datalink have been set back by 18 months to two years, but the communications service provider is proceeding with the upgrade of 175 US ground stations with VDL-2. The company expects to have the first 50 sites operational by year end, covering most of the US East Coast above 18,000ft (5,500m).

ITT Industries has demonstrated VDL Mode 3 datalink capability using its multi-mode digital radio (MDR), recently selected by the FAA to upgrade its air-to-ground communications infrastructure. VDL-3 allows spectrum congestion to be overcome by splitting standard 25kHz VHF channels into four "virtual" channels of voice or data. The FAA plans to make a decision in 2004 after an evaluation of VDL-3 and the alternative of 8.33kHz channel spacing and VDL-2. The CAVU 2100 MDR is being developed by ITT and Park Air Systems.

Source: Flight International