What is the Datalink Dilemma for the Connected Aviation Ecosystem?

datalink dilemma

Today’s connected aircraft rely heavily on data analytics to operate efficiently and safely. And given new, smart aircraft and the increasing number of ways to capture data both in the air and on the ground, connected aircraft can generate an extraordinary amount of valuable data to be accessed through a connected aviation ecosystem. In a data-driven environment that is only finding more ways to create, capture and analyze data, there is an emerging awareness of the need to keep data pipes and bandwidth open for the flow of essential and critical information to and from aircraft.

This demand for data creates a datalink dilemma that brings to mind many questions. What data is critical? How is it secured and delivered without interference from non-essential data? With so much data being produced, how will datalink communications improve to ensure availability? And what does this mean for ANSPs and airlines?

In a recent World ATM presentation titled The Datalink Dilemma Webinar: Cost Effective Solutions to Manage Critical Aviation Communications, Marketing Director at Collins Aerospace Dan Pendergast unpacks this exact challenge facing aviation and how communication protocols like ACARS are adapting to answer these questions.

“This increase in [data] volume really presents a challenge to [the industry],” stated Pendergast during the presentation. “[ACARS] is primarily intended for, and should be used for, safety and operationally critical information, and it performs well doing that. And it can perform well for the foreseeable future. But as the ACARS volume has increased, we now have a challenge on VHF capacity.” The challenge that Pendergast references has given rise to the implementation of the Internet Protocol Suite (IPS), an industry-wide initiative to construct IP-based communication architectures for the aviation industry.

To relieve pressure for these data pipelines in the aviation ecosystem, solutions like ACARS-over-IP (AOIP) reallocates how messages are sent between aircraft and ground crews. As enabled by IPS, this technology allows aircraft to send and receive messages by satellite communications or cellular links in addition to traditional methods like VHF. The reallocation mitigates the frequency congestion posed in the datalink dilemma.

Pendergast also covered the concept of “Advanced VHF,” an approach that would implement a higher-throughput waveform to enable more robust data pipeline capabilities. This approach is extremely cost-effective, as it would be compatible with existing aircraft communications systems as well as next generation ones, and would extend the life of current communication investments until it’s time to adopt newer technology. It also doesn’t call for an entirely new global infrastructure, allowing its implementation to happen over the course of 3-5 years by Pendergast’s estimation. However, Pendergast pointed out that in order for this approach to be successful, industry’s acceptance of it is crucial.

The ability for the aviation industry to adapt its communication capabilities is imperative in an increasingly data-driven world. Adopting technologies that diffuse the challenges that come with the datalink dilemma is a step in the right direction for the aviation community.

To learn more about the shifting ecosystem around aircraft communications and tackling the datalink dilemma head on, you can watch the entire webcast from Dan Pendergast on-demand here.