Emma Kelly/LONDON


United Airlines has committed its Boeing 777s (above) to Europe's Preliminary Eurocontrol Test of Air/Ground Data Link (PETAL II) programme.

PETAL II is Europe's groundbreaking datalink programme aimed at validating air-ground datalinks in an operational air traffic control environment. The three-phase programme involves air traffic controllers and aircraft crew communicating by digital datalink rather than voice messages, with voice communications as back-up.

The PETAL II programme is being conducted during routine flights handled by Eurocontrol's Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC). The first stage of PETAL II involved the use of the VHF datalink-4 (VDL-4) infrastructure. The latest phase of the programme will see 41 United 777s using FANS-1, the second air-ground infrastructure to be activated on the MUAC PETAL II multi-stack architecture.

United completed check flights using the FANS-1 infrastructure this year and decided to commit its 777s to the programme last month, says Rob Mead, Eurocontrol's PETAL II trials manager.

Air New Zealand and Lufthansa are also conducting test flights. The former is expected to decide soon on whether to take part in the programme. Lufthansa, with SAS, has been participating in the VDL-4 phase of PETAL II since it started in April 1998.

Eight flights a day operated by SAS McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and Lufthansa Boeing 747s are using datalink communications.

United's 777 fleet will bring a significant new source of operational data to the trials. The additional aircraft will give the project a new type of aircrew interface, another airline's cockpit culture and a significant increase in the number of flights using air-ground datalinks on a daily basis, says Mead.

Source: Flight International