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Aircraft operators are held to high standards, but the methods of ensuring compliance with those standards can cause other problems. The Honeywell Forge team has identified a clear example of this and also developed a solution that improves safety and helps facilitate efficient flight operations across the North Atlantic.
The problem stems from transatlantic flights where FANS procedures rely on datalink messaging via satellite and position tracking using ADS-C. Basically, ADS-C and datalink messaging come with standards that must be met for accuracy and timely response. If an airline or business jet operation’s aircraft don’t meet the requirements, they may be sent to purgatory—in this case forced to fly away from the efficient North Atlantic Tracks or even at a terribly wasteful lower altitude where fuel consumption skyrockets.
To expand the tracks system, reduced separation of aircraft meant that datalink systems had to meet new performance criteria, and the FANS CRA website was created as a means of recording problems and disseminating performance reports. This system is maintained by Airways New Zealand.
However, the results of measurements of ADS-C and datalink accuracy are compiled only at six-month intervals and delivered three months after that. So if an operator is having an accuracy problem, they might not know until nine months after the fact, explained Honeywell senior technical sales manager Carey Miller. “Corporate operators would rather stay on top of the situation,” he said. Operators are required to monitor their performance, as specified in their letters of authorization for FANS, and if their aircraft isn’t meeting performance requirements, they must submit a problem report. “And they can use the only tool that is provided: the CRA report,” he said.
For a corporate operator that flies transatlantic routes only occasionally, there is another facet to this situation. If they don’t meet the performance criteria and get kicked off the tracks, then it could take a while to be allowed back on. Some air navigation service providers (ANSPs) require 10 to 15 trips to verify that an aircraft is meeting performance criteria. While this isn’t difficult for an airline flying those routes regularly, a corporate operator that flies to and from Europe twice a year might not get welcomed back to the tracks for many years, until it can log enough flights to prove compliance.
Honeywell’s Forge fleet-management platform provides a simple way to solve this problem, Miller explained. Operators signed up with Honeywell’s datalink service now have access to Forge’s performance-based communications and surveillance (PBCS) tool, which provides near-instant feedback for FANS surveillance (ADS-C) and communications performance.
Forge users simply look up their aircraft, then click on the analytics tab, then PBCS. “You can get this 15 minutes after landing,” he said. “It shows every leg.”
If an aircraft isn’t meeting the performance standards, the Forge PBCS tool shows this in detail, drilling down to every position report and CPDLC (datalink) message. This is far more detail than is available with the CRA report, he added, making troubleshooting the problem that caused the missed performance much simpler.
In a recent case, a customer switched satcom service providers and said their satcom didn’t seem to be performing properly. Fortunately, the customer flagged this problem before an upcoming international trip. With the help of the Forge team, the system’s slowdown was confirmed, and the service provider eventually discovered that it had set the airplane up incorrectly in its system. Once that was fixed, the Forge team ran ground tests to confirm the system’s performance. And when the operator flew two FANS trips subsequently, Miller said, “he was dead-on, 100 percent. He was really happy with the way it was resolved within a matter of days from when he reported the slowness.”
Without the Forge PBCS tool, this operator would likely have not received the CRA report showing the performance problem until months after the planned FANS trips. Honeywell developed the Forge PBCS tool last year and began offering it to customers early in 2021 at no extra charge for datalink customers.
Miller recommends that operators with access to the PBCS tool download the reports after each FANS flight, which can be done in many formats, including Microsoft Excel, and save them as proof of performance in case any ANSPs raise questions about FANS performance.