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  • Andreas

Future communication

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

Even in today’s “performance-based world” the underlying technology of Communication, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) remains crucial, as no performance-based specification can cover the fact that we still use “steam-powered” systems, especially for communication. If you talk to somebody involved in communication engineering outside aviation, they cannot believe what technologies are being used on aircraft. The bandwidth available today for Controller-Pilot-Data-Link-Communication (CPDLC) is more a reminder of a turtle rather than a Formula One car, not to mention voice communication over VHF/HF. It is very common for passengers of an airliner to have a much faster communication data link at their disposal than the flight crew.

But there is no reason to panic, help is underway!

Figure 1: Ground worker talking on a VHF radio

A glimpse into the future

Tomorrow’s applications for CNS and Air Traffic Management (ATM) require high-speed datalinks, in the air, on the ground and in between [1]. The applications are almost unlimited, high-resolution real-time weather animations, improved flight-data monitoring and automated conflict avoidance to name just a few. To cope with this, ICAO set up a multi-link concept, involving a communication technology roadmap, which basically covers three areas, the airport environment, medium-range and long-range communication [1]. We are going to look at the first two (airport & medium range), as the technology definition for those is relatively mature already.

Around the airport: AeroMACS

The Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System (AeroMACS) is based on the commercially available 802.16 (4G) standard [2] [3]. This well-established technology ensures global interoperability and cost savings. The 5 GHz-band allows for high-speed data transmission including video streaming [2] [3]. The network provides a common link for airport services, airlines, maintenance and many others [3]. This forms part of the System-Wide-Information-Management (SWIM) approach governed by ICAO [1].

Figure 2: AeroMACS application in the airport environment [3]

Testing is organized on a global scale and several tests have been conducted at different airports in China, Europe, the US and Japan [3]. A typical cell-size will measure around 3 km in radius and the users can move with relative velocities up to 50 kts [3]. EUROCAE and RTCA standards are well underway and the launch of this technology is on the doorstep [1] [3]. This system is very well-suited for the airport environment, but due to its limited adaptability for fast-moving mobile applications, we need something more….

Enroute (medium-range): LDACS

The L-band Digital Aeronautical Communications System (LDACS) is a medium-range, medium-bandwidth communication data-link and thus a key enabler for the ICAO 4D-Trajectory management concept [5]. It can provide air-to-air and air-to-ground connectivity [4]. Originally, there were two versions of LDACS proposed, LDACS1 and LDACS2 [4]. They use different modulation schemes and access control techniques and were both tested for interoperability with existing L-band systems, especially Link16 and DME [4] [5]. Using part of the L-band (969-1164 MHz) is a compromise between the saturated and bandwidth-limited VHF spectrum and the attenuation-limited C-band (5 GHz) [5]. As the L-band is also heavily congested, an ingenious inlay scenario has been developed, effectively "squeezing" the LDACS signals between the existing DME frequencies [7].

Figure 3: LDACS1 inlay deployment [7]

LDACS1 is the system being further developed within the SESAR2020 project and is now just called LDACS [5]. The system is designed to connect up to 512 users per cell (about 200 NM radius), providing a data rate of typically 1 Mbit/s [4]. A draft LDACS specification has been produced and initial ICAO SARP’s are expected to be available by the end of this year, final version around 2026 [5]. Additionally, LDACS can offer more than just communication capability, it has been successfully tested as a candidate for Alternative Positioning, Navigation and Timing (APNT). The testbed aircraft (Falcon 20) flew several enroute and approach scenarios. Multipath and DME interference were investigated, including rectification by Doppler-smoothing, leading to remarkable results (mean accuracy within 2-3 m, SD within 5 m) [6]. Compared to other APNT candidates, such as eLORAN, LDACS is able to provide a 3D-position with a performance that would enable approach operations. LDACS offers a number of promising services and might enable civil aviation to establish a powerful data link, merging communication, navigation and surveillance applications; a concept that has been successfully used on the military side for decades...



[1] ICAO, Global Air Navigation Plan 2016-2030, 2016

[2] Ehammer, Pschernig, and Gräupl, AEROMACS - AN AIRPORT COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM, Digital Avionics Systems Conference October 16-20, 2011

[3] Eurocontrol, AeroMACS – Factsheet, 2016

[4] Plass, Future Aeronautical Communications, InTech, 2011

[5] Rihacek et al., L-BAND DIGITAL AERONAUTICAL COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM (LDACS) ACTIVITIES IN SESAR2020, 2018 Integrated Communications Navigation and Surveillance (ICNS) Conference April 10-12, 2018


[7] Gligorevic, Epple and Schnell, The LDACS1 Physical Layer Design, in: Future Aeronautical Communications, InTech, 2011

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