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Time to become a fan of FANS


According to IATA, global air traffic continues to grow at a rate of between four and five percent per year. As the skies become increasingly crowded, finding new ways to fly more efficiently becomes a must. At the vanguard of this initiative is cockpit avionics.

For flights between North America and Europe along the busy North Atlantic Tracks (NAT), the future of flying is FANS (Future Air Navigation System 1/A).

According to Universal Avionics figures, there are 1,400 NAT crossings every day, with six percent coming from the corporate sector. Approximately 60% of these crossings are FANS 1/A equipped – and this number is rapidly increasing. But with current separation between aircraft being only 10 minutes in trail, the route is quickly approaching the saturation mark.

FANS intends to remedy this, with its primary goal being to improve flight safety via better communications to aircraft in remote and oceanic areas. FANS also aims to reduce longitudinal and lateral separation minimums that will allow aircraft the ability to climb for greater fuel efficiency.

Must-see: How does FANS work?

This is not a new concept, as FANS was developed by ICAO and Boeing in the 1980s and first implemented in the 1990s. What is new is the increase in reliable, affordable satcom and VHF technology that allows for Data Link Communication between the aircraft and Air Traffic Control (ATC).

“Essentially, FANS provides means to communicate to and surveil an aircraft as it crosses the North Atlantic, where ground based radars are obviously not available,” says Universal Avionics Manager of Business Development Carey Miller. “Instead, FANS uses a data link that automatically communicates an aircraft’s position to ATC via satcom.”

  Date   Mandate   Details
  Feb 2013   Phase 1 FANS 1/A in NATS   Two center (most desirable) tracks, FL360-FL390 inclusive
  (no exemptions)
  Feb 2015   Phase 2A Expanded FANS 1/A Airspace   All NAT Organized Track System (OTS) FL350-FL390
  (inclusive and no exemptions)
  Nov 2015   RLatSM in NATS (trials)   Two center (most desirable) tracks will have a ½ track between
  them
  Dec 2017   Phase 2B   FANS 1/A required in all ICAO NAT region FL350-FL390,
  inclusive
  Jan 2020   Phase 2C   FANS 1/A required in all ICAO NAT region FL290 and above


According to Universal Avionics, for those aircraft capable of flying above the OTS airspace, flight planning service providers have taken a conservative approach and stated that “if you do not meet the requirements to fly on the specified Data Link tracks, you shouldn’t plan to shadow those tracks above the OTS airspace.”

The main reason for this is if they are unable to provide you with your requested flight level and you are assigned a flight level within OTS, they will have to re-route you on a different track due to lack of appropriate equipment and capabilities.

The consequence of failing to comply? Money.

As many long-range aircraft have an optimum altitude of FL370-FL390, failure to comply with FANS 1/A means they will be restricted to flying at FL330 or FL340, at which level they burn at least 10% more fuel – not to mention having to have a higher cruise speed to keep up with other airliners and less flexibility for reacting to weather or turbulence.

“FANS is a more efficient means for the controller and the aircraft to communicate,” says Miller. “And failure to comply will result in having to take increasingly extreme routes that are longer and thus require more fuel burn that, depending on future ICAO ETS regulations, could add even more costs to a transatlantic flight.”

In practice, what this means is that by 2015, aircraft that are not FANS 1/A equipped will be required to fly around the OTS and transitioning through the OTS on a ‘random route’ will be unlikely. By 2017, non-compliant aircraft will have to fly the so-called ‘Blue Spruce Routes’ that take one north over Greenland and Iceland or below FL350. By 2020, aircraft not FANS 1/A equipped will be regulated to these Blue Spruce Routes or below FL290.

The operational benefits of FANS 1/A are many. First and foremost is that it significantly improves communications, as large quantity of HF traffic and poor quality HF are no longer an issue. More so, deviation from flight plan clearance can be detected sooner.

Of course all this means less stress for the crew – which directly corresponds to increased flight safety. As an added bonus, having FANS 1/A installed on the aircraft means WAAS/SBAS FMS compatibility for LPV approaches. (See boxed text below)

“The ultimate goal of FANS is to increase safety by facilitating more direct routing and better altitudes,” adds Miller. “For this reason, it is highly recommended that all new aircraft come with FANS 1/A compliant avionics and owners of older aircraft take advantage of the many available retrofit options.”

Rockwell Collins’ FMS enables LPV approaches in Europe

Rockwell Collins’ flight management system (FMS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver recently enabled the first demonstrations of advanced arrival and departure flight operations for the European Union’s airspace-enhancing project FilGAPP (“Filling the Gap” in GNSS Advanced Procedures and Operations).

FilGAPP is a project of the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program managed by the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and coordinated by the Spanish transport consultancy, INECO, with industry and national air navigation service provider partners, including Rockwell Collins. The goal of FilGAPP is to create new, more efficient methods of navigating airspace using satellite-based navigation and advanced FMS functions.

“FilGAPP highlights the opportunity that exists for air carriers and corporate operators to increase operating capacity and to save time and fuel through more efficient terminal procedures at European airports,” says Rockwell Collins Vice President & Managing Director EMEA Claude Alber.

The most recent demonstration, performed in Germany in collaboration with key FilGAPP operational partners, took place on a Hawker 750 aircraft equipped with Rockwell Collins’ FMS and GNSS receiver. It was the first time that a high precision and high integrity missed approach/departure was performed in Europe.

The flights also validated technical and operational independence from the closely spaced air traffic control systems of two nearby airports, which enabled increased operational capacity for each airport.

By Nick Klenske

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