The European Commission (EC) has initiated a wide-ranging study which aims to bring a decision on the most appropriate type of datalink for key air traffic management (ATM) applications closer.

Designated the "datalink roadmap", the year-long study is an attempt to develop a plan for deployment of datalink applications and technologies for European ATM, and to draw up a strategy for future implementation programmes.

Unveiled at the ATC Maastricht 2002 event in the Netherlands last week, the €500,000 ($437,000) study comes under the EC Single European Sky programme.

EC transport officials have selected a consortium led by UK-based ATM consultancy group Helios Technology to conduct the work. Helios is being supported by partners including Airbus and the International Air Transport Association, French ATM development firm Sofreavia, Danish group Integra Consult and the University of Leiden. The consortium will co-operate with Eurocontrol.

The two-phase programme will look at applications which will deliver benefits and decide which datalink to use, says Helios' senior consultant Paul Ravenhill. Selecting datalink standards which would be acceptable to all stakeholders is one of the main obstacles in the development of a future European ATM system. In addition to Mode-S, VHF digital Mode 2, 3 and 4, and high-frequency datalink (HFDL) there is a myriad of alternative specialised links, including broadband satellite communications, which will also be considered.

Priority will be given to technologies which the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Aeronautical Mobile Communications Panel has investigated. "But it is key that we don't get into the technical question too early. We don't want technology to drive the applications," says Ravenhill.

The study will involve extensive consultation with all stakeholders - including air traffic services providers, airspace associations and manufacturers - and proposals are set to be discussed at two public forums in May and October.

Source: Flight International