Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Two European airlines are leading the drive to link aircraft on the ground and in the air with the airline's "intranet" information technology systems.

Lufthansa charter affiliate Condor and Swissair plan demonstrations of systems to allow Internet-style exchanges of information with aircraft using low-power datalinks in the terminal area and satellite communications.

The trials are expected to lead to the establishment of international standards for an airborne file server that will connect cockpit and cabin systems with the airline's administrative and operational data systems.

Rockwell Collins is working with Condor on a test programme involving all eight of the Airbus A320s operated by subsidiary Condor Berlin. Trials will begin early next year and involve four airports. Programme manager Ed St John says the system is planned eventually to be in installed in all Lufthansa Group aircraft.

The A320s will be equipped with an airborne network server, interface unit and transceiver for the 2.4GHz wireless local-area network. This spread-spectrum datalink has a range of 800-900m (2,600-2,950ft), allowing data exchange to begin while the aircraft is still some distance from the gate.

The interface unit acts as a safety "firewall" between flight-critical avionics and the file server, St John says. The Windows NT operating system allows the server to run third-party software, he says.

Applications to be demonstrated during the Condor trial include routing e-mail to the pilots' laptop computers, uploading flight management system databases, and maintenance diagnostics.

Swissair, meanwhile, is working with Honeywell on a similar trial, which will involve an A321 based at Zurich. This demonstration additionally involves an interface to the aircraft's satellite communications system, allowing use in flight, and to the passengers' entertainment system. Swissair plans eventually to equip its Airbus and Boeing MD-11 fleets with the system.

Source: Flight International