ARINCDirect delivers a wide range of valuable services

Rockwell Collins made a wise move in acquiring the worldwide flight planning, connectivity and logistics capabilities that ARINC provides.

By Shannon Forrest
President, Turbine Mentor
ATP/CFII. Challenger 604/605,
Gulfstream IV, MU2B

ARINC SFO communications center provides VHF/HF radio links for aircraft controlled by the Oakland and Anchorage ARTCC. It can also provide service in Hawaii and Guam.

Rockwell Collins is a well established brand when it comes to flightdeck technologies. Corporate aviation has benefited from the latest advances in modern avionics in the form of the Pro Line 21 and Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics systems, which appear on a wide range of airframes from turboprops to heavy jets.

What some pilots may not know is the company offers a vast array of value added services to the business aviation community. Even if one's cockpit is not hard-wired with a Rockwell Collins suite of electronics, it's still possible to gain benefits through the acquisition of ancillary products.

The company has always outperformed when it comes to flight planning, and readers of Professional Pilot magazine may recall that in 2013 Rockwell Collins' Ascend International trip Support (ITS) was ranked number 1 in this category as determined by the annual PRASE Survey. The results, a 9.11 out of 10 based on 2960 reader submissions, were published in April of 2013.

A few months later Rockwell Collins made a pivotal move when it purchased ARINC, another highly regarded company with a solid foothold in the international flight planning arena. ARINC marketed its service under the trade name ARINC Direct and the combined portfolio of both companies was rebranded by omitting the space and joining the 2 words together. The ARINCDirect moniker is now representative of a suite of products that includes flight planning and data link, flight operations management, cabin connectivity, and international trip services.

Details on ARINC services

ARINC is a familiar name in the industry with a long history stemming from the early days of aviation. The name comes from Aeronautical Radio, Inc and was the label for frequencies originally intended only for airline use.

ARINC is a name that just about everyone in aviation has heard of even if they can't recall when or how. On paper it's a $1.39 billion dollar company – per what Rockwell Collins paid for it – that at the time of acquisition in 2013 had annual revenue in the $600 million range.

Despite a huge communications infrastructure that at 1st glance may seem overwhelming, complex and impersonal, pilots that contact an ARINC radio operator have a different impression. Those traveling in oceanic airspace outside of radar coverage off the East Coast of the US on a Lima airway to or from the Caribbean know the scenario well. Upon crossing one of the compulsory reporting points, a pilot keys the microphone with the radio set to a designated High Frequency (HF) and opens the conversation with the header, "New York Radio," followed by the call sign and the word, "position." A voice at the other end acknowledges the aircraft and responds with, "go ahead with your position."

If you're fortunate enough to have ADS-C combined with CPDLC, the position report is made electronically. You're still required to make at least 1 HF call to verify the radio works and check the selective calling (SELCAL) system that allows ARINC to alert the aircraft that voice communications is temporarily needed.

Hearing a human voice is a bit reassuring when staring at seemingly endless miles of ocean, especially at night. In this case the ARINC communicator is transmitting from a location within the state of New York, but there's another facility located in San Francisco as well. In total, ARINC's HF coverage area encompasses 25 million square miles of oceanic airspace using 60 frequencies. For a thorough review of HF procedures visit the Professional Pilot archives online and select the April 2016 edition.

Frequency identification necessary

An ARINCDirect application loaded to a PED can be used to compute weight and balance and derive performance numbers. This is especially beneficial if the manifest changes right before takeoff.

One quick takeaway is that when contacting ARINC on HF, it's important to identify on initial contact which frequency you're calling on (eg "New York Radio Gulfstream N1234 on 6640").

The reason is that each radio operator is monitoring ("guarding") an entire group of HF frequencies – known as a family – with the primary frequency in the operator's right ("working") ear and all the others in the left. When frequencies become congested with weather deviation and other requests, it saves time if the operator is able to match a specific frequency with a particular aircraft at the start of a conversation.

Other useful ARINC capabilities

In addition to HF radio, ARINC operates 11 VHF radio nets and has voice capability through both the Inmarsat and Iridium satellite networks. Aircraft with ADS-C/CPDLC and satellite capability would typically revert to using the satcom link for position reporting if the automated feature malfunctions. Still, reverting to HF – which seems anachronistic in the modern era – has proven to be a reliable backup if all else fails.

Although ARINC is typically known for relaying position reports to ATC, it also delivers ATC clearances and instructions, disseminates weather reports, and provides phone patches to a flight dispatcher or medical provider. As of 2014, ARINC exchanged over 200,000 messages per month, with a request-to-response turnaround time averaging less than 5 minutes at an error rate of less than 1 per million.

ARINC history and accomplishments

How ARINC got to where it is today is an interesting story. It goes back to 1929, when the Federal Radio Commission (the precursor to the modern day FCC) called for a central authority to manage and coordinate the frequencies used for commercial aviation. Prior to 1929, each airline hired their own radio operators and fought one another on limited frequencies being used at the time (mostly in the HF band). The governmental solution was a business entity incorporated in the state of Delaware under the name Aeronautical Radio, Inc, or as abbreviated, ARINC.

The charter specified that the corporation would be a not for profit entity. Individual airlines would be allotted stock based on the ratio of scheduled miles flown compared to the aggregated miles flown by all carriers. But there was 1 caveat: to protect against the possibility of turning a radio service provider into a venue for a competitive advantage, no carrier could own more than 20% of the stock. At first, ARINC served in a supervisory capacity as airline employees manned the radios. Later, the organization took over operations, installation and maintenance.

It wasn't long before ARINC developed a breadth and depth of technical competence in the nascent world of aeronautical communications. As a result, it provided assistance in establishing the 1st air traffic control towers in Newark, Chicago and Cleveland. ARINC also became involved with developing and promoting standards for equipment, hence the origin of the ARINC 429 electrical bus which established a common methodology for avionics components to interact.


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