Flight test: IPS capabilities allow secure real-time messaging from pilot to controller

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In flight, data is transmitted to and from an aircraft which requires immediate action. Within seconds, these communications help the pilot make critical decisions about things like weather, flight path, and aircraft performance, which can have a significant impact on safety, speed, and performance. flight efficiency.

For decades, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) has transmitted these messages, making it one of the most important communication protocols in the industry. But as the aviation industry has evolved with smarter planes flying and generating more data, there is increasing congestion on the network. To allow these critical messages to pass securely, the ACARS roadmap has been adjusted to adapt to more modern technologies, including ACARS over IP and Internet Protocol Suite (IPS capabilities), which is rapidly becoming an area of ​​investment. growing in the industry.

In addition, the evolution of IPS capabilities from IPv4 to IPv6 expands the number of users and devices that can communicate over the Internet, including flight management systems that can send data through the traditional network or SATCOM to processors. on the ground. To keep up with the rapid development, industry partners are coming together to test IPS protocols and capabilities for the future.

Evolution of ACARS towards IPS communications

ICAO was one of the organizations that initially pushed for the development of IPS communication standards for the industry, and organizations such as the Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) continued to work on the development standards for aviation technology to effectively manage global airspace. Initially, the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) was developed to deliver ATC messages over data links. This is especially important when an aircraft travels along ocean routes that depend on communications and the use of satellites.

“Data communications are more reliable than voice communications and the delivery of these critical messages has to be fast,” explained Pragnesh Patel, senior director, ACARS Svc and Avionics at Collins Aerospace. “When an air traffic controller asks a pilot to make an adjustment while flying at high speed, action must be taken immediately.”

A delay in delivering this message could result in higher fuel consumption, longer travel times or the impact of weather incidents, Patel explained. As the future of air traffic management continues to evolve to create greater operational efficiency, the reliable and secure delivery of ATC messages will become even more important.

Industry and government collaboration

The adoption of these capabilities for aviation is not new. It is being developed in Europe as part of the Single European Sky initiative and in the United States as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen initiative. With FAA supporting the implementation of IPS capabilities, especially for CONUS air traffic service messaging over the next five years or so, industry is coming together to create a framework for IPS standards to ensure compatibility with future IP networks like IPv6.

Collins Aerospace has played an important role in working with industry and government to create the next set of IPv6 standards that would help modernize air traffic and airspace management. The future roadmap for ACARS over IP and the development of IPv6 protocol standards will provide greater consistency across the global industry.

“Earlier this year, our engineering team completed several standards related to ATN IPS and these have been adopted by the industry,” Patel said. As the standards were developed by the team and its collaborators, they demonstrated the viability of these solutions, Patel explained.

In-flight flight test with ecoDemonstator 2021

At the end of August 2021, a successful flight test was carried out in collaboration with Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Collins Aerospace, FAA, Honeywell and Inmarsat. The completed exercise tested interoperability, media independence and the safety of in-flight messaging.

The Boeing ecoDomonstrator, Alaska Airlines 737, was modified for flight test and fitted with terminals and routers that allow pilots to send ATC safety data and messages over the Collins Aerospace network, using the IPv6 protocols on two types of media: VDL Mode 2 VHF and SATCOM. Collins Aerospace developed the ground systems and supplied the IPS network and gateway systems, which are required to integrate and interact with new IPS aircraft as well as with existing operating systems and aircraft.

The last flight test proved that critical messages could be transmitted using end-to-end IPS communication in flight. The exercise also tested media switching between several types, including VHF and SATCOM, with positive results. In addition, the test demonstrated the conversion of the ACARS protocol as well as the connection to existing ACARS systems, providing FANS over IPS and multi-link and mobility. IPv6 inherently incorporates end-to-end encryption, ensuring the security of critical messages during air-to-ground and ground-to-ground transit.

On the horizon

Once the successful flight test and demonstration is completed and the proof of concept is underway, these industry partners along with the FAA will study the data and determine any improvements or adjustments needed, Patel explained. Once these adjustments are made, “a future test will be set up to show the prototyping,” he said. “If everything is on schedule, we expect ATN IPS capabilities to be available for use between five and eight years in US airspace. That said, Patel noted that Collins Aerospace continues to track and monitor technology and advancements and supports global initiatives to provide data communications over IP.


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