THE US FEDERAL Aviation Administration has joined with industry to develop the Aeronautical Telecommunication Network (ATN) offering rapid and reliable information exchange, including air-traffic-control instructions and engine-performance data, among pilots, controllers and airline operations worldwide.

The deal was struck between the FAA and ATN Systems, a private company started by 11 US carriers, including United, Delta and Federal Express. Foreign airline and aviation authority participation is being sought. The Pentagon is also participating in the project. Business and general-aviation aircraft owners would also be ATN users.

Today's aeronautical telecommunication system is a combination of very-high frequency (VHF) and high-frequency (HF) voice and data transmission systems that the FAA says will not be capable of handling projected demands of the future.

The ATN can be thought of as the "internet" of two-way ATC communications between aircraft and the ground. The software development would allow users to exchange messages without regard to which communication system is being used. The operating environment, technology and urgency would dictate which link is chosen.

Project officials say that it should finish validating ATN standards by mid-1996, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation Council is expected to endorse ATN before the end of the year.

The system will require an airborne and ground communications processor, or ATN "router," to connect the user end-systems with the different air-to-ground links and ensure reliable message delivery. The FAA and ATN Systems have earmarked $16 million and $6 million, respectively, to fund router development and certification.

Project officials envisage a five-year research and development programme with ATN requirements defined in the first year. They estimate that it will then take four years to develop and test the router software. Avionics testing would run in parallel followed by an ATN operational evaluation in the last two years.

A conference is scheduled for 7 August at United Airlines in Chicago to open a dialogue with interested vendors. Representatives from between 50 and 75 foreign and domestic firms are expected to attend.

Source: Flight International