Air navigation authority may offer ATS providers scheme to speed up programme

European air navigation organisation Eurocontrol is considering offering air traffic services (ATS) providers a "pioneer scheme" to support them in upgrading control centres for datalink communications, in a bid to speed up implementation of Europe's Link 2000+ programme. The move follows an incentive scheme for airline datalink pioneers, now being finalised, which will include testing and implementation support and reduced navigation charges.

Link 2000+ will involve implementing en route communications via VHF datalink mode 2 (VDL-2) in 11 European states from 2003 to 2007. Datalink communications, replacing voice, are considered necessary to enable the European air traffic management system to handle growing traffic. It is expected to reduce the communication workload for air traffic controllers and pilots, increase communication reliability and allow information to be exchanged between airborne and ground-based systems.

The pioneer scheme, which is being put to ATS providers this month, would see Eurocontrol give support by upgrading equipment and providing test facilities and resources at its Bretigny experimental centre, says AlexWandels, Eurocontrol's Link 2000+ programme manager. Eurocontrol's Maastricht centre already supports datalink communications following its pioneering Preliminary Eurocontrol Test of Air/Ground Datalink (PETAL) project, conducted between 1998 and 2001.

"We want to grow Link 2000+ from Maastricht outwards," says Wandels. The service providers of Austria, the Benelux countries, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland have all committed to Link 2000+, with more expected.

The scheme is intended to speed up ATS providers' move to datalink at a time when airline "movement is accelerating", says Wandels. Lufthansa has already committed to the programme, but its Honeywell avionics are unlikely to be certificated until 2004. Other airlines talking to Eurocontrol about their datalink plans include Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Iberia, KLM, Scandinavian Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines. "We are beyond the operational convincing stage," says Wandels, adding that airlines recognise the operational advantages datalink communications will bring.

To convince airline finance departments of the need to upgrade for air traffic control datalink - which costs about $20,000 if an aircraft is already VDL-equipped for airline operational communications - the first 100 aircraft to participate in the programme will receive testing and certification support from Eurocontrol, and an incentive scheme could offer reductions on route charges. A final incentive proposal is due to be presented to ATS providers this month.

Eurocontrol is aiming for 25% of the fleet operating in Europe to be equipped by 2007, although it concedes this is ambitious. The organisation will hold a workshop in Brussels in December, which is designed to bring airlines and ATS providers together.

Source: Flight International