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Communications flying high

Kors van den Boogaard, IATA, Assistant Director, Communications, Navigation and Surveillance, talks to InterComms about IATA’s work on developing a roadmap for the airline industry’s future communications needs.

Kors van den Boogaard, IATA, Assistant Director CNS, has been working with IATA for 16 years. His main responsibility is the development of the airline industry's policies for Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) and radio spectrum management. He represents IATA in various fora such as ITU, RTCA and AEEC. Kors is the IATA-nominated member of the ICAO Aeronautical Mobile Communications Panel (AMCP), Surveillance and Conflict Resolution Systems Panel (SCRSP) and Aeronautical Communications Panel (ACP).

Before joining IATA, Kors worked in various functions for the Dutch Civil Aviation Administration. He also served in the Dutch Radio Airforce as an avionics specialist. Kors has a BSc in Electronic Engineering and Economics.

Q: What is happening in aeronautical communications?
A: Airlines communications costs have increased over the years. The only way to reverse this trend is to increase competition.

We also need to take advantage of modern digital technology for our communications needs. Did you know that, in this day and age, pilots still call out frequency channels and change frequencies manually. Analogue systems are becoming more difficult to support and are prone to interference.

Aviation must catch up to the mobile communications industry. Ironically, we were the first to use mobile communications around 1930. We are using basically the same communication procedures as then!

IATA is developing a communication roadmap on behalf of Member airlines, driven by stringent requirements to support air to ground communications for Air Traffic Management and Airline Operational Control (AOC). Our ultimate aim is an integral aeronautical communication service supporting all airline communication needs, although this will take a many years to achieve.

Q: What is the current status of the roadmap?
A: Today the airlines have a disparity of communication requirements – for air traffic control, airborne operations, and administrative communications from aircraft to ground and within the airline operations network. Passengers want access to airline reservation systems and to onboard telephony.

For almost every service, we have a variety of communications systems and providers. Air traffic service providers operate their own services. Airlines use SITA and ARINC (Aeronautical Radio Incorporated) for the operational and administrative communications. For internal communications, airlines have their own telecom lines or lines leased from a provider, often SITA and ARINC. Airlines often have their own networks as well.

Q: What role do SITA and ARINC play?
A: SITA and ARINC are the airlines’ own communication providers. Originally ARINC was mainly based in North America while SITA serviced the rest of the world. As airlines wanted to increase the competition, ARINC became increasingly active outside North America, and SITA moved into the continent. Competition has ensured better efficiencies.

Q: What are the long term goals?
A: Looking to the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) and International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT2000) systems as a model, we can envisage, in the long term, a global aeronautical network supporting all our aviation communications needs. The traffic generated within this network would make it attractive for commercial providers to compete for our business, while meeting the aviation standards.

Q: What happens at the moment?
A: For air to ground communications, airlines have very little option but to use SITA or ARINC. For air traffic communications, we have a monopoly situation, through air traffic service providers. That is partly because standards are not integrated into one system and because associated costs are directly recovered through charging the airspace users.

Q: How do you bring in new providers?
A: As the volume of communications traffic for Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Airline Operational Control (AOC) is relatively limited, it is difficult to interest other commercial providers in our business. We require routine airline communications and safety-critical ATC be supported by one cost effective system. The ability to meet a variety of types of service is the crucial element of the IATA roadmap.

Q: What is IATA’s role in this?
A: The IATA role on behalf of Member airlines is to ensure safety and efficiency of operations and service. We are concerned above all with safety.

Q: When did the airlines’ interest in attracting new communications providers begin?
A: It started with satellite communications. Initially there was to be a dedicated satellite system that would meet all our requirements, using profits from passenger services to pay for improvements to safety communications. It was anticipated that the cost of the safety communications would fall.

Airlines pay $40 billion a year for ATC and airport services in the form of user charges. A ballpark estimate of the proportion of that figure going to communications services is 20%, or $8billion for ATS communication services alone.

Q: What is the first step to your overall goal?
A: We should first combine our ground/ground and air/ground communication with air traffic communications providers, who still use the archaic and expensive Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunications Network (AFTN). We would like to see the emergence of third parties such as ARINC or SITA to support air traffic communications, leading to a shared infrastructure that could significantly reduce costs. Because airlines are board members of both companies, we can influence to contain communication costs for ATC.

For this first step we have various options. We have the ‘VHF Digital Link (VDL) Mode 2’, a data link system now deployed by SITA and ARINC for air traffic services on a limited scale, but required in most European countries by 2009. As you can see, we do not move fast in terms of technology!

Q: What are the regulatory implications?
A: From the regulatory perspective, there are two very different types of service: safety communications (as for ATC and AOC), with their own specific allocations of radio bands, and non-safety communications, using bands that are coveted by providers of other services hungry for bandwidth.

Air/ground bandwidth has always been limited. Now airlines want increased bandwidth to offer onboard telephony to passengers. Therein lies our problem; obtaining bandwidth is a competitive issue. Passenger services are a selling point for airlines to attract more passengers.

Q: Could you envisage a single service provider ever appearing?
A: Airlines are looking more closely at the mobile telecommunications industry for potential service providers. Airlines would welcome that option, on condition that stringent quality of service levels are guaranteed. If airlines do not have that assurance, they do not fly. It has to be an extremely careful transition.

In an ideal future, IATA Member airlines could take advantage of personal mobile communication services. But for the service providers, there needs to be a business case for this higher, safety-critical, quality of service.

Q: Do you expect providers to modify products or will you use off-the-shelf-technology?
A: Six years ago Iridium was willing to provide aeronautical services and we developed standards within ICAO. However, the standardisation and implementation process was too long for Iridium. The moment we were ready to adopt the required standards, Iridium declared bankruptcy!

Commercial companies like Iridium need to introduce new systems every six years to compete, while for aviation the cycle has traditionally been 20 years. Here is a further challenge.

Aviation has an arrangement with Inmarsat for satellite communications in which we piggyback services, since we cannot afford our own dedicated system. For terrestrial communication we still have dedicated systems. The idea is that we integrate satellite with terrestrial services.

Q: What are the big issues that remain?
A: How to make aviation communications attractive to providers. For them to adjust existing systems to aviation requirements might be too costly to justify the business case.

In a single infrastructure one of the issues is whether you can prioritise safety communications over non-safety communications. At the moment the communications industry is not interested, although they might be forced to do so because of lack of frequency resources. Passenger communications will be the selling point to the commercial providers and we would like to piggyback safety communications with them.

Q: When could we expect change on the ground?
A: Ground to ground communications is easier to introduce. For air to ground we are looking at a 3G or 4G systems in case needed adapted for aviation by 2016. It is a matter of getting systems in line with the mobile communication industry, and then selling packages. The moment there is interest, then companies will approach airlines. We want to reduce the entrance barriers into aviation communication to increase competition.

Q: When will the Roadmap be endorsed?
A: The proposed roadmap will soon be sent the IATA Member airlines for consultation. By October 2004 we should have our IATA roadmap and policy in place, to serve as a guideline to IATA Member airlines.

For more information:
Please contact: Kors van den Boogaard, kors@iata.org
Or visit: http://www.iata.org

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