Home' Asian Aviation : AAV April 2017 Contents T his is the dawn of a golden age of aviation Big Data and
information management. Never before has so much data been
available to inform day-to-day operational decision making with
insight, safety and security. Aviation industry partners and competitors
alike are committed to evolving network infrastructure to better serve
customers by delivering more data faster and enabling value-added
services and applications. However, it is crucial that we do so while
carefully considering the global implications of security and end-to-end
To that point, there are misperceptions within the aviation industry about
the networking and flight-deck connectivity mechanisms that enable this
data and information management. The crux of the issue is that aviation
is a high-integrity industry, and operations have necessarily developed
around assumptions of security and assured end-to-end performance.
New solutions that don’t deliver on these assumptions could lead to a
disruptive and expensive dead-end for the entire aviation ecosystem:
aircraft, airlines, airports, Air Traffic Control (ATC), ground handlers, and
These misperceptions within the aviation industry can be seen as three
myths. Here, each of the myths is examined at a high level with the goal
to separate fact from fiction.
Myth 1: ACARS messages will soon be obsolete
Fact: Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS)
is the world’s predominant commercial air-ground data communications
infrastructure, used by hundreds of airlines to deliver more than 7.5 billion
messages annually between aircraft, ATC centers and Airline Operational
Control (AOC) centers worldwide. New commercial and business aircraft
just entering the flight line are built to support ACARS technology. And
billions of dollars of compatible systems around the world are built to
work with ACARS, whether via HF, VHF or classic L-Band satcom. It is these
systems – and their interoperability with ACARS – that are the reasons
ACARS isn’t going away anytime soon.
Today, the latest cell and broadband satcoms are introducing Internet
Protocol (IP) to aircraft. These broadband links enable smart devices that
deliver new capabilities. To leverage these new capabilities, ACARS itself
is evolving. The next generation ACARS-over-IP concept is designed to
utilize higher-speed (and lower-cost) broadband channels. This creates
the opportunity to connect IP-enabled devices to cockpit avionics in order
to introduce new applications that drive additional efficiencies to airline
operations. While some ACARS messages may be replaced with enhanced
data sets in time, this will only happen if there is a value proposition that
drives that change.
Myth 2: Existing end-to-end aviation networks are limited
to ACARS messaging over HF, VHF and satcom pipes
Fact: Existing aviation networks deliver unmatched global, high assurance,
end-to-end coverage for commercial operations. These networks are
communication pipe- and protocol-agnostic; they can support the full
range of communication technologies and protocols. This is crucial,
because today’s aviation ecosystem is built upon the interoperability of
countless systems of different complexities and ages and is based on
technology that evolves at different rates across the industry.
This interoperability and complexity makes the secure transmission
of operational and business-critical messages – in the full range of
information types – an essential component of networks today and in the
future. This is what end-to-end aviation networks do. Today. Right now.
Around the clock.
Myth 3: Sweating the details isn’t necessary
Fact: Whether these exact words are used isn’t the point. The point is
that there are massive logistical and functional ramifications to evolving
generations of aircraft flight decks, and to migrating ATC and AOC
infrastructure worldwide to new data pipes. When this is not clearly
explained, the sentiment “don’t sweat the details” is conveyed loud and
clear. And that is misleading.
The introduction of air-to-ground IP requirements, and its impact
on ground-to-ground infrastructure, is a high-integrity undertaking.
Efficiently and effectively managing this transition – sweating the details
– is crucial to an industry that must evolve smoothly with a laser focus
on availability, reliability and data integrity. If done poorly, an airline’s
operations could be seriously disrupted.
Moving forward, industry stakeholders can successfully dispel these
myths by focusing on three imperatives that will ensure our industry
evolves in a way that delivers the success we all want to see:
Value: Any change to specific ACARS messages should be driven by a value
proposition that makes sense for industry stakeholders and takes into
account the impact on the entire aviation ecosystem. The fact that ACARS
itself is evolving should not be discounted.
Timing: There must be a transition period to adopt IP connectivity and
to fully understand the complexities involved in changing even one
component of vast interoperable systems. During this transition period,
airlines will have the freedom to choose an appropriate connectivity
option for each application in their operations.
Details: Sweating the details is simply table stakes in a high-integrity
industry like aviation. And the depth and breadth of these details – their
complexity and global ramifications – must be shared with stakeholders.
This is the dawn of a golden age of aviation big data and information
management. Let’s not tarnish it with myths that could disrupt the entire
industry. There is too much at stake and too many people depending on us
to get it right.
The Evolution of Flight Deck Connectivity: Three myths that could disrupt
the aviation industry
Learn more at
David J. Nieuwsma, Senior Vice President
Information Management Services
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