CPDLC Datalink Changes for 2013

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CPDLC Datalink Changes for 2013

Beginning February 7, 2013, the first phase of mandated controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) was implemented on North Atlantic tracks (NAT). Over time, additional CPDLC and automatic dependent surveillance-contact (ADS-C) requirements will facilitate future evolution of the air traffic management system (ATM). These changes will eventually require many business aircraft to be outfitted/retrofitted with updated equipment in order to avoid being restricted from preferred airspace/routings.

The following is some information regarding the changes that have taken effect:

1. What is CPDLC?

CPDLC is a generic term for airborne datalink communications. It was originally known as future air navigation system (FANS). It’s widely acknowledged that CPDLC enhances surveillance and intervention capability and is instrumental in reducing collision risk. The use of ADS-C greatly facilitates search and rescue operations, as well as location of an aircraft following an incident in oceanic airspace. To achieve planned safety objectives, it’s considered important to increase current levels of aircraft data link usage, particularly in the NATs, where level of aircraft data link usage is currently at 45-50%.

2. What are the advantages of CPDLC?

CPDLC cuts down on voice traffic on VHF and HF and allows for faster and more accurate communications with air traffic control (ATC). CPDLC permits pilots to communicate directly with the controller, via both canned messages and free text, and it eliminates language barrier issues. The first phase of mandatory CPDLC implementation, over the NAT, will introduce new tracks between existing tracks and allow more effective use of airspace.

3. How will implementation of CPDLC impact operations?

ICAO CPDLC has a mandate in place and each European Union (EU) country is establishing its own guidelines. Germany was the first to mandate CPDLC in a specific airspace for scheduled commercial airlines. Business aviation, at this time, has been given waivers for this airspace. NAT data link mandates will be incrementally implemented in two phases. Commencing February 7, 2013, two core tracks, under Nav Canada’s area of applicability and within NAT organized track system (OTS) ranging from FL 360 to 390 inclusive, require CPDLC and ADS-C fitted aircraft. On February 7, 2013, a new track was added between the core tracks with a new 30-mile separation. No exemptions or waivers will be permitted, due to congestion of these tracks, and aircraft wanting to use this airspace must have CPDLC capability. Aircraft without approved CPDLC capabilities will be put in the outer tracks, which will add to flight time and restrict access to optimum tracks. The second phase, commencing February 5, 2015, defines vertical and lateral dimensions of airspace within NAT minimum navigation performance specifications (MNPS) airspace.

4. What are the impacts of these changes?

As notified in State letter EUR/NAT 12-0003.TEC (dated January 4, 2012), all aircraft intending to conduct flights in portions of the defined NAT regional airspace shall be fitted with, and shall operate, CPDLC and ADS-C equipment. Aeronautical information circular (AIC) 24/12 outlines the defined airspace for the data link mandate, methods of indicating equipage in flight plans, and details and timelines for implementation. With ICAO 2012 flight plan format changes, effective November 2012, operators are unable to operate in particular airspace without appropriate navigational equipment codes. Fines will be imposed if codes are incorrectly placed in flight plans or if aircraft don’t have equipment for codes listed.

5. Will these changes eventually make it mandatory for operators to have CPDLC?

CPDLC requirements are currently only for specific airspace, but these mandates are to be extended out in future. As more widespread requirements for CPDLC come into place, operators will need to evaluate the cost/benefit of retrofitting or upgrading aircraft. For some operators, these required aircraft data link upgrades will be very expensive. Newly manufactured aircraft are more likely to have approved CPDLC capabilities on initial delivery.


Over time, the plan is to have all NAT traffic using CPDLC, but there’s no specific time frame as to when this will be implemented. Data link mandates and requirements are evolving and, at this time, few business aircraft are outfitted with the latest required capabilities. Best practice is to stay abreast of CPDLC changes via ICAO, NATS UK and NAV Canada Web sites and talk with your 3rd-party provider.


If you have any questions about this article, contact us at markmiller@univ-wea.com or rickvlahovich@univ-wea.com.

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Mark is a former Air Traffic Controller with more than 35 years’ experience in aviation. Prior to his departure, Mark served as the Universal Supervisor of Technical Planning, and was with Universal for approximately 27 years.


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An expert on avionics and aircraft communications, Rick Vlahovich is the Product Manager for UVdatalink, the Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc. Global VHF and SATCOM ACARS data link communications solution. Rick has been with Universal since 2001 and has more than two decades of experience in aviation, including 13 years with a major aircraft manufacturer as an avionics systems design engineer for 747s, 757s and 767s, and as a lead engineer for hardware and software integration and testing on the International Space Station. Rick, who has an electrical engineering degree from Gonzaga University, is a certified product management professional and has shared his expertise with several business aviation industry publications.

Rick can be reached at rickvlahovich@univ-wea.com.

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