United Airlines Launches Satellite Based Wi-Fi Service

On 24/01/2013, in Airline corner, by steve

United Airlines has introduced onboard satellite-based Wi-Fi internet connectivity on the first of its international widebody aircraft, becoming the first U.S.-based international carrier to offer customers the ability to stay connected while traveling on long-haul overseas routes.

The aircraft, a Boeing 747 outfitted with Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s Ku-band satellite technology, serves trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes.

Additionally, United has outfitted Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi on two Airbus 319 aircraft serving domestic routes, offering customers faster inflight Internet service than air-to-ground technology (ATG). The company expects to complete installation of satellite-based Wi-Fi on 300 mainline aircraft by the end of this year.

“Satellite-based Wi-Fi service enables us to better serve our customers and offer them more of what they want in a global airline,” said Jim Compton, vice chairman and chief revenue officer at United. “With this new service, we continue to build the airline that customers want to fly.”

Customers have the choice of two speeds: Standard, priced initially between $3.99 and $14.99 depending on the duration of flight, and Accelerated, priced initially between $5.99 and $19.99 and offering faster download speeds than Standard.

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The Mortal Sin of not Taking CPDLC Seriously

On 18/01/2013, in Viewpoint, by steve

CPDLC… Controller Pilot Digital Link Communications. It all started when experts predicted that with the increasing demand, congestion on the air traffic control frequencies will make communications impossible and hence a cap will have to be put on the number of aircraft being served simultaneously, severely restricting ATC capacity.

CPDLC is in fact non-verbal communications using predetermined messages for all but the most time critical exchanges. A kind of SMS service for aviation if you like.

A decade or so ago, Europe was actually leading the world in developing CPDLC, so much so, that American Airlines, disenchanted with the FAA performance on the same subject, asked to be allowed into the EUROCONTROL Petal trials, the trendsetting project that solidified the basis for this new communications technology.

Both the US NextGen and the European SESAR projects show digital link communications as one of the most important elements of the new ATM system. However, some of the main European provider states have disclosed at the end of 2012 that, in spite of a mandate by the European Commission, they will be late with their digital link implementation. One of them will not be ready until 2019!

Of course to-day we know a good deal more about the future ATM system than we did back in the days of Petal. Back then, the focus was mainly on avoiding communications congestion in continental airspace. Anything more that digital link could do was still just a glimmer in the eyes of the most daring dreamers amongst us.

In the meantime, we have of course defined the meaning and practical aspects of Trajectory Based Operations, the new concept which finally does away with the legacy airspace based concept to replace is with something that is able to give back most of the freedom to airspace users that was taken away when positive control was introduced. In the drive for ever more economies in operations, that freedom translates to many millions of bucks saved every year for every company.

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Test your knowledge of airport characteristics!

On 14/01/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

Fact: there are on average more than two runway incursion events in Europe every day. A lot of effort is going into eliminating the reasons for runway incursions… These range from improving procedures to increasing awareness of pilots, air traffic controllers and ground vehicle drivers of the dangers a runway represents.

Now you too can test your knowledge of airport characteristics… Click the image below and take the quiz. Tell us your score in a comment!

Click image to take the quiz!


The Case for LED Aerodrome Lighting

On 13/01/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

Inset omnidirectional low intensity light

Aerodromes used also at night and in reduced visibility conditions rely on a variety of lights to guide aircraft on the ground and on approach to the runway. These lights must meet extremely stringent requirements set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The requirements range from color temperature and light intensity to the horizontal and vertical spread of the beam. The light fixtures and in-pavement light units must also comply with mechanical standards that ensure their safe operation in the airport environment.If we look around an aerodrome at night, the sea of blue, green, red, flashing yellow and white lights and lighted signs give a good idea of the power consumption they represent and then we have not even mentioned the floodlights creating near daylight conditions on the appron.

The multitude of aerodrome lights…

Installing a modern aerodrome lighting system is an expensive but unavoidable requirement and maintaining the system is also a high ticket item, a major cost to the airport’s operator.

Airports cannot afford to turn dark if the power feeding its systems and lighting is cut. Sophisticated emergency power sources make sure that essential elements, like the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and the approach and runway lights do not even blink when the primary power fails and they are kept in operation by this first-response facility until the stand-by generators can take over. Obviously, the power consumption of the lights determines the size of the built in bridging supply and emergency generating capability while costs are directly proportional to the power required.

Being able to deploy lights with lower power and maintenance requirements would save huge amounts of money for the airport operator and hence also the users of the airport.

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Will EUROCONTROL’s New DG Rebuild an Old Dream?

On 11/01/2013, in ATC world, by steve

Frank Brenner, EUROCONTROL’s new DG

Once upon a time, EUROCONTROL had been created to be the air navigation service provider for Europe. Operating a limited number of air traffic control centers, a research institute and a training facility, it would have been the key to an efficient set up not unlike what we find in the United States.

Unfortunately, before the concept could be fully implemented, European States decided that such a pan-European service was not to their liking and they went for a EUROCONTROL that ended up having responsibility for only a relatively small chunk of airspace (although it is one of the busiest) and all later attempts to go further in the original direction were repulsed. Just think of CEATS…

A few functions were allowed to be under the EUROCONTROL umbrella. The Integrated Initial Flight Plan Processing System and the Central Executive Unit (the flow management folks) escaped the State surgeons’ knife and went on to become real success stories. They were later joined by the European AIS Data Base and of course the Central Route Charges Office is also something Europe could no longer exist without.

But air traffic control remained hopelessly fragmented and the costs were much higher than those in the US while the whole operation was a good deal less efficient. A series of projects entailed, each with lofty ideas about repairing European ATM but they all failed due to the same elementary forces that had afflicted the EUROCONTROL dream… The inertia and parochial thinking of European States, who were mainly interested in maintaining the status quo. Change came only where it was really no longer possible to keep things as they were.

Seeing that Europe as a whole was unable to reform its ATM, the European Commission came with a new idea. Let’s divide Europe into 2-3 blocks of airspace cut out to reflect the main traffic patterns and then have States optimize their services inside these blocks. So the FAB (Functional Airspace Block) idea was born. Of course Europe being Europe, instead of 2 or 3 FABs, 9 (NINE!!!) were created reflecting political wishes rather than the needs of air traffic patterns.

Guess what was discovered next? That 5 or 6 European States have roughly the same difficulty in agreeing anything as 20 or 39 do. The whole idea of FABs is fragmentation on a different scale but with 9 of the animals working away practically independently, a recipe for failure was clearly on the table. 4 December 2012 was the date when the FABs should have been operational… The date came and went and the FABs were there in name only to the dismay of the European Commission and the airlines who gave voice to their disappointment in a letter with unusually hard words.

Now EUROCONTROL has a new director.

Frank Brenner, a former VP of the Performance Review Commission, seems to be the bearer of something new… Something that might, one day, restore things to where they should have been decades ago but were always torpedoed by the parochial thinkers.

Centralised services…

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FAA Will Review Boeing 787 Design and Production

On 11/01/2013, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

In light of a series of recent events, the FAA will conduct a comprehensive review of the Boeing 787 critical systems, including the design, manufacture and assembly. The purpose of the review is to validate the work conducted during the certification process and further ensure that the aircraft meets the FAA’s high level of safety.

“The safety of the traveling public is our top priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This review will help us look at the root causes and do everything we can to safeguard against similar events in the future.”

A team of FAA and Boeing engineers and inspectors will conduct this joint review, with an emphasis on the aircraft’s electrical power and distribution system. The review will also examine how the electrical and mechanical systems interact with each other.

“We are confident that the aircraft is safe. But we need to have a complete understanding of what is happening,” said FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. “We are conducting the review to further ensure that the aircraft meets our high safety standards.”

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2013 – Another year of failures?

On 02/01/2013, in Viewpoint, by steve

It is customary to look back at the end of the year to take stock and then to make all kinds of promises to ourselves for the new year… Promises that we seldom keep.

European air traffic management had a tumultuous year culminating in grumbling by the airspace users on a previously unheard scale and indeed language. The FAB’s were criticized fiercely, air/ground digital link services will be late and the much hyped new version of the SESAR Master-plan barely made it…

So, what promises will Europe make to its long suffering airspace users for 2013? Words are only words of course and we all know the value of New Year promises… But then what can we realistically expect from 2013?

To understand 2012, we do need to go back a little further in history. For the better part of two decades, Europe has had air traffic management improvement projects that did generate new ideas, new solutions which even managed to evolve as traffic patterns and aircraft capabilities were evolving… on paper. Because in reality, very little of the new ideas were put into every-day operational use. The projects failed one after the other. EATCHIP, ATM2000+ went down the drain and the best proof of their failure is the existence of SESAR. Had the previous projects achieved their objectives, there would never have been a need for a monster project like SESAR.

It was of course very convenient to blame EUROCONTROL for the failures and subsequently the only institution in Europe with real ATM knowledge was gutted and basically made all but irrelevant.
Other than a few mavericks, yours truly included, nobody spoke up to tell the world the real reason for all those project failures: that it were recalcitrant States and ANSPs that actually not only threw the wrench into the works but also kept it there to make sure change was all but impossible.

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Meeting Bashir and the ride to Suez

On 01/01/2013, in Battle stations, by jason

The story I am about to tell is nothing out of the ordinary. Actually I guess it is something that most Maritime Security Officers experience on a frequent basis. However, it is so ordinary that we don’t even give it a second thought anymore. But I am sure it will get a laugh out of you and just in respect of Bashir, it is worth telling.

Without exaggerating, our job isn’t all that dangerous. Yes we go to the high seas and wait for armed gangs of pirates, armed with 7.62 AK-47’s and RPG’s (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and a doped up will to kill and conquer. But still, we have the solid and stable high ground. We have a prepared crew, precision weapons, razor wire and fire hoses (which only do any good in the minds of the people at IMO thinking up ways how to kill pirates by having the die of laughter and maybe ammonia after a cold shower). So all in all, it is pretty safe which is the reason that no vessel with armed security on board has ever been taken.
No, it is not the job in itself that is so dangerous. I have noticed that we have risked our lives more often in the drive to and from International airports in our countries of embarkation and disembarkation. For example Egypt or Sri Lanka. Being a resident of Belgium, I am used to people driving like their hair is on fire and execute maneuvers that look strange even to the half-blind. But in Sri Lanka for example I have woken up in the car seconds before the driver was about to hit a cow which was having its lunch break on the middle of the road. The cow wasn’t really the problem; it was the traffic on the other side of the road. The driver decided that he could take the oncoming lane to go past the cow. That this lane was occupied by a 20 ton “goods carrier” with limited or no brakes was left in the middle. Forget RPG’s and getting hit straight through the ballistic vest by a 7.62 stray round (stray because these pirates can’t aim for shit. But stray or not, bullets don’t discriminate).

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