NATS trials datalink at lower altitudes

- London, UK

Leading air traffic services provider, NATS, is conducting research into the use and benefits of Datalink in lower airspace - below FL285 (28,500ft) - using live flight trials between Bristol and Edinburgh, Bristol and Rome Fiumicino and four routes between Scotland and Scandinavia.

Datalink - instructions being passed between air traffic controllers and pilots using data rather than voice communications - is mandated in European airspace above FL285. This trial aims to prove its benefits at lower flight levels down as far as FL100 (10,000ft), while still maintaining tried and tested safety procedures. This should enhance safety and reduce workload for controllers, leading to increased capacity, fewer delays and improved efficiency.

Running until June 2014, the trials form the culmination of the AFD (ATC Full Datalink) Project, part of the Demonstrating SESAR: Integrated Flight Trials programme. NATS is an integral partner in the project, working with the Italian air navigation service provider ENAV, airlines including Air France, EasyJet and SAS and industry leaders Selex-SI, SITA, Airbus ProSky and Boeing.

Since its inception in November 2012, the concept has been developed and validated and these trials should show that Datalink can efficiently and safely replace routine RT (Radio Telephony) communications at lower altitudes, leaving cluttered RT channels clear for abnormal situations.

Over ten successful trial flights have taken place so far, and the use of Datalink in lower airspace is being received positively by both controllers and pilots participating in the trials.

Commenting on the project, Research & Development’s Senior Engineer John Haywood, who is project managing the AFD Flight Demonstrations for NATS, said: “NATS has already significantly invested in Datalink, rolling out the technology at our two centres, Swanwick and Prestwick in August last year to ensure we are compliant with the Single European Sky mandate.

“However, this trial is pushing the boundaries of Datalink usage and if successful will allow for the benefits of Datalink to be realised in busy areas of airspace at far lower altitudes, positively impacting upon safety and efficiency.”

By its participation in AFD, NATS Research & Development Department is also paving the way for the long term Borealis Alliance vision of optimised Datalink services across Northern Europe, for the benefit of both customers and ANSPs.

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