October 05, 2012
Airlines waiting for a reason to spend millions of dollars to equip their fleets with next-generation (NextGen) communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) technology may see more convincing arguments from the FAA in the very near future.
Along with the awarding of a contract to establish and operate a domestic data-link system that includes $80 million in financial help for equipage, the agency also is nearing completion of a public-private partnership that may provide more than $1 billion to help cover buying and installing NextGen CNS avionics.
The financial aid, along with increasingly relevant demonstration projects at key airports, is meant to provide a skittish airline industry with evidence that equipage will equal savings, an equation the agency says will not hold true if “critical mass” of retrofitted aircraft is not reached.
“The FAA needs to show some little victories,” said Gerald Dillingham, director of physical infrastructure for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), at a NextGen avionics conference last month in Atlantic City. “In the past, the sense has been that airlines are equipping and the FAA is not following through. If we could get to the point where airlines see the benefits, hopefully that will increase the credibility of the program.”
One example is American Airlines’ investment in a controller-pilot-data-link-communications (CPDLC) trial in which the carrier equipped 25 aircraft with technology that allowed for a variety of commands to be sent and received via text. Trials began in 2002 but the FAA ended the program in 2004 due to limited participation and growing costs.
Now, the hard feelings with American Airlines may have been resolved.
The FAA in mid-September selected Harris Corp. to install and operate a data-link communications network, known as “datacomm,” to transform what is largely a voice-controlled air traffic control system today to a data-based air traffic management system for the next decade.
Teamed with Harris under the seven-year, $331 million Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) contract is American, along with GE Aviation, Arinc, Thales and others.