Lufthansa could have equipment ready by late 2003 as Europe's US-compatible Link 2000+ gets green light

The implementation of en route datalink communications in Europe has moved a step closer with the continent's air navigation service providers, airline associations and industry approving interoperability standards to support Europe's Link 2000+ datalink programme. Lufthansa is likely to be the first European carrier to equip for datalink communications in a programme that will see its introduction across at least 11 European states by 2007.

Europe has adopted the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment's (EUROCAE) document ED110 that will allow the initial introduction of basic en route communications between sectors and centres, requesting and issuing air traffic control clearances and microphone checks via VHF data link mode 2 (VDL-2) rather than voice communications.

Departure clearance and digital automatic terminal information service will continue to operate over the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) and will migrate to VDL-2 as the number of equipped aircraft rises. Future Air Navigation System (FANS-1/A)-equipped aircraft will be accommodated using the aeronautical telecommunication network.

The move to datalink communications is seen as vital to allow the European air traffic management system to cope with growing traffic levels. It is intended to reduce the communications workload for air traffic controllers and pilots, increase communication reliability and allow the exchange of information between airborne and ground-based systems, resulting in increased sector capacity.

Eurocontrol's Link 2000+ plan is compatible with the US Federal Aviation Administration's Build 1A programme for controller-pilot datalink communications, which will also use VDL-2 for en route communications.

Lufthansa is likely to be the first European airline to be equipped for the programme in the last quarter of 2003, following certification of its Honeywell avionics, says Alex Wandels, Eurocontrol Link 2000+ programme manager. The Air France Group, Alitalia, Iberia, KLM and Swiss are also expressing interest in becoming pioneers, he says.

Eurocontrol aims for 25% of the fleet operating in Europe to be datalink-equipped by 2007, which may be overly optimistic, concedes Wandel. Airlines will be offered financial incentives to move to datalink communications, with these details due to be finalised by year-end. Incentives are likely to be based on route charge modulation, says Wandel, with datalink-equipped aircraft being charged 5% less than non-equipped ones, for example.

With many airlines already equipping with VDL for airline operational communications, the additional cost for air traffic control datalink is between $20,000 and $28,000 per aircraft.

Source: Flight International