As the national air space (NAS) becomes more congested and digitally connected, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a plan in place for airspace modernization. The FAA Enterprise Network Services (FENS) would replace the existing telecommunications system that has been in use for the past two decades and would enable digital integration of the connected aviation ecosystem.

The undertaking is major, especially as technology continues to evolve rapidly, and the airspace becomes more digital. LeAnn Ridgeway, Vice President and General Manager for Information Management Solutions at Collins Aerospace, recently shared her thoughts on the importance of reliability and security for the future of the digital aviation ecosystem. 

“We are witnessing a digital transformation of the air transportation system that will enable a fully connected aviation ecosystem where all the participants can have access to information they need to better manage their operations,” she wrote in a recent post. “With the introduction of new technologies and the advent of drones, urban air mobility, and commercial space flight, having a reliable, secure network for data exchange is paramount to maintaining the safety of our national airspace system.”

The sheer volume of data that is generated and flows from ground automation platforms to the connected aircraft and back down again has exceeded what has been managed in the past. Ridgeway noted the volume not only increased, but the variety and veracity are higher than ever before. “Seamlessly curating and uniting this flow of data across the aircraft, airline, and ground applications is leading us to create more insights, more efficiencies, and more opportunities,” she said. “Ensuring the health and wellbeing of this connected aviation ecosystem boils down to successfully managing the data as it travels continuously across a safe and secure network dedicated for this purpose.”

Collins Aerospace understands this demand, as it currently operates the largest, private aviation, network, the ARINC Global Network (AGN), which supports over 3,000 stakeholders in the aviation community and spans 180 countries. On average, with more than 600 data processing centers, the AGN delivers more than 75 million messages associated with critical airline mission operations and back-office transactions, daily. “We enable them to effectively communicate and share vital information with business partners, operators, and applications around the world,” Ridgeway pointed out.

Based on its extensive experience developing and maintaining the ARINC Global network, Collins Aerospace has laid out several key areas for the FAA to consider when it comes to airspace modernization and ensuring that data can move reliably and securely. The first is incorporating a software defined network architecture so that as technology evolves, the system can be upgraded without constant hardware changes. Second is incorporating cloud-based solutions based on an open architecture to enable the development of applications and avoid “vendor lock.” The final step is securing the network and ensuring interoperability.

Ridgeway highlighted that the AGN incorporates each of these aspects. “Because many of the applications we develop are mission-critical, we place a great deal of emphasis on the security aspects of the network,” she explained. “From its inception, the AGN was designed with a ‘defense-in-depth’ security strategy that includes multiple enterprise-level security policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines. And we continuously monitor the network for threats through our 24/7 Cyber Security Operation Center.” Not only has Collins Aerospace made the network “future-proof” and resilient, but it has leveraged the latest software-defined network technologies to ensure scalability and dynamic traffic management.

As the aviation ecosystem becomes more connected and airspace modernization continues, secure, and reliable, data delivery will require a solid infrastructure, similar to the ARINC network, to ensure the right information reaches the right destination, at the right time.

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.