More fully explaining acquisition and use of CPDLC
Historical background, current and future applications, makers of the equipment, costs of acquisition, installation and training.
CPDLC crew training
Honeywell's depiction of a positive datalink connection message with Gander Oceanic Control Centre. If coupled with a printer, the crew can also have a hard copy of communications, or can reference previous messages in the log submenu.
Do not skimp when it comes to CPDLC crew training. Otherwise the equipment you invested in will be useless. Initial training is mandatory for both Part 91 and Part 135 operators in order to obtain the required letter of authorization (LOA) to operate your CPDLC equipment in international airspace. In the future, it is possible that recurrent CPDLC crew training will also be mandatory.
Several great simulator schools offer CPDLC training lasting around 3–4 hours. While those training facilities may get you familiar, the most cost-effective and beneficial corporate CPDLC training facility – in my experience – is Kobev International Training, headquartered just outside of Chicago IL.
Kobev owner and key instructor, Mike Mitera, provides a comprehensive course. Mike also owns Chicago Jet Group, so when searching for a company to provide your CPDLC requirements, it's likely you will be consulting with Mike.
Kobev's immersion course lasts 1–2 days and covers regulations required for initial currency, along with hands-on CPDLC simulation training sending live CPDLC commands to you based on the specific equipment you'll be utilizing. Kobev offers different training modalities. You can attend class either at your facility or at Kobev's classroom environment in Chicago. If you choose to train at your own place, Kobev comes to you and properly trains your flightcrews on the exact systems you have installed. Courses average around $1900–$2500 per pilot.
Monitoring and regulatory
Be aware that air traffic activities have begun monitoring pilots and their performance. If you fly across the pond and make numerous communications, CPDLC or procedural errors, ATS operators may not let you back into the airspace until you attend verified remedial training.
One requirement in the North Atlantic Organized Track System (NAT-OTS) airspace is to keep your assigned Mach Number. If assigned M .80, it is critical you do not speed up or slow down to fit in with other traffic. Monitoring thrust to maintain your assigned Mach number can be tedious. In response to this, I can say I'm grateful for autothrottles.
FANS mandates and regulations have been in effect since 2015, within all flight tracks in the (NAT-OTS) airspace, from FL350 to FL390 (inclusive), and will be effective to all ICAO NAT airspace within by December 2017. By January 2020, all airspace above FL290 in the ICAO NAT region will require CPDLC/ADS-C and RNP 4. Otherwise you won't be permitted to enter the airspace or you will be relegated to less desirable fuel-guzzling off-track altitudes and routing. Aircraft with the most advanced communication, surveillance, navigation equipment get the favored altitudes and routes.
One small saving grace with aircraft such as a Gulfstream is its ability to climb quickly above CPDLC and NAT-OPS airspace to FL410 or higher. If ATC consents your climb early, you may avoid investing in CPDLC for now and may simply be able to get away with an ADS-B Out system, which will be required in all aircraft by Jan 1, 2020.
If you are unable to climb to higher altitudes, flying at only FL280 may not be cost effective long term. If you have to make an emergency descent, this will create mayhem with those legitimately in the NAT-OTS airspace. Thus CPDLC investment may be prudent in the long run.
Numerous operators such as Chicago Jet Group, Prime Jet, Starjet, Jet Edge and Cinco Air Charter are already using CPDLC or gearing up their fleets to utilize this technology.
Advanced technologies and oceanic procedures
Just when you thought your plate of aviation acronyms and buzzwords was full, along comes advanced technologies and oceanic procedures (ATOP), also referred to as Ocean 21. These have been in-place in the New York and Oakland Oceanic ARTCCs since 2005 and the Anchorage center since 2007.
Within this airspace, ATOP identifies aircraft that are suitably equipped for controllers, fitted for example with CPDLC and ADS-C, and then they provide decision support tools for establishing the separation minima for all pairs of aircraft along a cleared profile. This provides aircraft profile conformance monitoring and protection. Translation: besides determining separation standards, CPDLC and ADS-C equipped aircraft will get preferential airspace.
The final analysis
While CPDLC is not the big red button you push to zip you across the globe, it is an amazing advance in cockpit communications for NextGen aircraft and beyond. CPDLC greatly enhances aviation safety, especially with transoceanic operations.
Operators love the fact that, while HF is available and still required, CPDLC eliminates many of the time delays and voice communication errors that VHF, HF and SATCOM can create. CPDLC is a good thing; it is the future in ATC–Pilot communications. And unless we invent a more superior form of communications link between pilots and controllers, CPDLC is here to stay.
Harold Katinszky is an FAA lead safety rep with extensive experience in corporate aviation. He is type rated in Gulfstream, Falcon, Learjet and Hawker business aircraft.