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Europe trials air-traffic-control-over-IP-and-satellite

IoT (Internet of Travel)

I mean what could possibly go wrong with that.

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Re: IoT (Internet of Travel)

It would be nice to see a study into the possible points of failure of the system (satellites do occasionally go boom), as I'm sure has been done, plus what failover mechanisms would be mandated/advised.

I wonder if Elon will enter the market, too.

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Re: IoT (Internet of Travel)

Perhaps more properly the "Internet of Wings."

I agree, basing ATC on that well known, best of breed, highly secure stack of IP protocols may not be a good plan.

I hope they go straight to IPv6. Using IPv4/CGNAT when one of the carriers is Aeroflot could be bouncy.

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Re: IoT (Internet of Travel)

Apart from the fact that such a system is likely to get a better consideration of security than the average IoTat doobrey, at present commands are send, in cleartext, over a public medium (VHF radio, HF over large areas of water). So the current system is hardly what you might call secure - no encryption, spoofing equipment readily available (or easy to build), and security basically comes down to the need for some physical presence on the part of the perpetrator and the ability of the authorities to use DF (direction finding) to quickly locate the transmitter (it has happened).

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Childcatcher

Re: IoT (Internet of Travel)

"Perhaps more properly the "Internet of Wings.""

I'm here from The League of Distinguished Zeppelin-faring Gentlemen to emphatically express our distaste of this disastrously disgraceful, discriminating moniker!

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My Bond villain persona has just hatched a plan to crash airliners together by fiddling with the on-board kit to fake aircraft locations.

From an IT angle, thankfully it looks like they aren't actually using IP for real-time data.

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Trollface

You're overthinking it. DDoS the autopilot, anyone?

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Anonymous Coward

"destinations where airspace is increasingly contested"

You mean like Ukraine?

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I do wonder whether any pilots were consulted in this matter?

I would be interested to hear whether a pilot would prefer to receive verbal instructions as necessary, rather than have yet another screen in front of them full of extraneous information.

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Boffin

Victor's vectors

> yet another screen in front of them full of extraneous information

They could use an existing screen with extra icons and popup messages like 'your flight path needs adjusting: yes/no/cancel' and 'fish or chicken: accept/reject/review navigational data'.

How often will the pilot be notified, in what way, how big will the potential adjustments need to be before they are deemed necessary and turned into orders instead of advisories, how 'auto' is the auto pilot going to be with these going on, hopefully (optimistic!) nobody will go on to develop something that stupidly assumes instructions are obeyed...

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Vic
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I would be interested to hear whether a pilot would prefer to receive verbal instructions as necessary, rather than have yet another screen in front of them full of extraneous information.

CPDLC is already in use in commercial aviation. This story is about changing the communications medium to increase range rather than adding any new messaging system.

Vic.

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The last I heard (which was admittedly a few years ago) was that NASA had set up a test bed which simulated pilots in an ATC zone and all the ATC comms associated with that (lots of people running FSX in a lab with 2 way headsets, and an ATC with some kind of virtual radar view of all the planes)

The one point of ATC instructions over data comms is that pilots lose situational awareness. By having all instructions broadcast, there is a second level of error checking going on because if ATC tells a plane to fly an altitude, a plane already at that altitude can hear the instruction and relay any concern about a possible conflict.

With data based ATC comms that was lost

Probably more of an issue for approach/departure controllers around an airport rather than at high altitude, but it is still a concern

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Re: Victor's vectors

"You appear to be trying to get lost, do you need help with that?"

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Anonymous Coward

What it is about

> This story is about changing the communications medium to increase range rather than adding any new messaging system.

It's actually quite a bit more than that, but you got the gist of it right. There are two essential parts to the problem: one is sending instructions and receiving requests, the other is knowing where everyone is on remote areas (namely, oceanic routes).

Safe flying over oceanic routes, and elsewhere in the absence of positive control, is possible thanks to procedural methods. This means what the name says: we fly according to pre-established procedures, that keep everyone safe and nicely clear of each other. It works fine, but reduces the airspace capacity (number of aircraft that can safely occupy the same bit of sky) and is less than ideal when things go wrong as reaction and response times are longer.

As of six years ago my oceanic flying colleagues were mostly using SELCAL equipped HF¹ and ACARS messaging. This is quite an improvement over the state of affairs in the 70s and 80s, but suffers from the sparseness of communications (in particular, position reports, if transmitted at all, were/are infrequent) and lack of good integration with air traffic management systems. This is what is being addressed here in the context of SESAR. It is not about any one technology in particular but rather about integration of various technologies, both existing and under development.

Indeed, aviation 15 years from now will be *very* different from what it is today (when seen from the inside).

On a side note, I appreciate that this is a generalist and tabloid-style site, but I would like to ask readers not to create noise with comments along the lines of "have they thought of [blah]". Yes, they have. The aviation industry is not exactly known for improvisational tendencies.

¹ So that you do not have to spend the whole crossing listening to the crackle of the HF radio, or worse, to pilot chit-chat.

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Happy

This is not a either or case, the verbal will remain of course. Some accidents have been caused by misunderstandings by the way, and the problem reading instruments when the thing is shaking badly will remain.

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From my understanding, when the controllers give an instruction "Turn to heading 270", the pilot responds with a confirmation message "Turning to heading 270". This allows the controllers to know that the pilot has understood the message, and has acted on it.

With this system, just hitting the 'OK' button on the screen does not confirm to the controllers anything other than the message has been received.

Or am I missing something here?

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Presumably the aircraft's position, course and speed are sent to ATC so it should be obvious fairly quickly if the aircraft is turning. If they also return the autopilot settings then they'll know what new course has been set, this is possible now with Mode S transponders as I understand it although not all aircraft implement that option.

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@Bob Wheeler

I think you've got that about right.

Something else to think about: during IFR, and an aircraft in controlled airspace is always flying IFR regardless of the weather or time of day, the pilots eyes are, or should be, fully occupied with scanning the panel. In these circumstances surely its better to use voice communications: since that's hands-free (the Tx button is normally on the yoke almost under the pilot's thumb) and doesn't need the pilot to take his eyes off the panel.

Yes, I know that airliners have at least two pilots in the cockpit and that one flies while to other handles commmunications etc, but controlled airspace is also used by bizjets and other, smaller aircraft with a single pilot and they will need to be linked into this system as well. Given that, it would be nice to know how this proposed screen is going to be fitted into an already packed instrument panel, the size and weight of the new gear with its satellite antennae and what its going to cost to purchase, maintain and operate it.

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Two ways to handle this. First, the heading could be fed back and correctly followed directions act as acknowledgement of routine directions. Second, an audible confirmation could still be used. This is still the testing phase and the pace is noted to be slow. There's still time to account for vigilance.

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"Turn to heading 270"

"Ok Siri, turning to heading 270"

What could possibly go worng...?

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Re: @Bob Wheeler

an aircraft in controlled airspace is always flying IFR regardless of the weather or time of day

Point of order - not a correct and complete statement. VFR in some classes of airspace is permitted, though it is true that the airspace that this initiative applies to for now will be IFR only.

Also, being pedantic, being IFR doesn't mean not using eyeballs through the windscreen.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

I think that you probably are, a little bit, but that's because the article is a bit misleading.

Nothing new or novel is being done here; the point of this test is just to prove equipment and procedures for ATC over IP via satellite.

It's in the second paragraph of the article, where it says: "Such tracking will be rather more precise than current methods, which rely on radar near or over land but have little or no data about where planes are once they fly over oceans. Air traffic controllers are therefore conservative when assigning flight paths, just to be on the safe side." that the misunderstanding starts.

Currently, commercial aircraft are tracked via a system named Secondary Radar, which isn't really radar at all; ATC broadcast a non-directional radio signal which, when received by an aircraft, tells that aircraft to respond by broadcasting back to ATC its own position, direction, alt & speed etc. Thus, it's really no more like radar than being downstairs at home and shouting to someone upstairs to ask if they've left the bathroom.

The break in communication that occurs when the aircraft is over the ocean is because the broadcasts between ATC and the aircraft are direct and more or less line-of-sight (for reliability - long-ranger range radio is possible but less reliable as it's effected by atmospheric conditions). So the only new thing here is using IP via satellite for ATC instead of direct radio.

As for the controllers being more conservative about spacing, just to be on the safe side - I'm afraid that the wording seems to suggest that it's an informal measure that the ATC controller has decided to take at their own discretion when it's actually the formal procedure.

And as for "just hitting the 'OK' button on the screen does not confirm to the controllers anything other than the message has been received" - well, simply saying "Turning to heading 270" doesn't confirm that the pilot has performed the action either.

Note that there's nothing actually new about IP via satellite on aircraft; it just means it'll be carrying ATC along with whatever the passengers are browsing.

One assumes that the encryption used on the ATC traffic will not be subject to government backdoors.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

@LeeE

Repeating back "Turning to 270" doesn't mean that the pilot has done it, but it does mean that the pilot has heard the instruction and at some level understood it. Hitting "OK" on the flight computer doesn't indicate understanding or even that the message was seen

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Vic
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Re: Am I missing something here?

Currently, commercial aircraft are tracked via a system named Secondary Radar, which isn't really radar at all;

SSR generally[1] is radar. Modes A and C contain no positional information, so the situation you describe could only work if every aircraft in the controlled space were equipped with Mode S. That isn't the case.

I suspect you might be describing ADS-B, which is a fairly similar technology. It's very useful for collision avoidance, but it doesn't replace radar.

Vic.

[1] I have to say "generally" because I haven't personally checked every single entity in the world that describes itself as SSR. But everywhere I've flown that uses it does indeed use a radar.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

@ An0n C0w4rd

I agree completely. As a pilot and an IT person, I shutter to think about how many times I've clicked "next" through various "wizards" without even reading the dialog.

Now consider the same kind of situation in an aviation context. When operating in busy airspace, especially when IFR, maintaining your instrument scan, running checklists, and keeping aircraft control, the idea if just pressing the okay/acknowledge button would be easy to do without comprehending the instruction. Most non-pilots may not know that many ATC instructions require a full repeat of the instructions given by ATC. With a verbal read-back, you have to at least think about the instruction.

I also agree to the above comment about situational awareness. I have on two occasions been given instructions from controllers that put me on a collision path with another aircraft. Both times each of us realized it in time to change course, due to hearing the instruction to the other aircraft. This cross-check will be lost.

This sound like a disaster in the making.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

'SSR generally[1] is radar.'

Agreed, SSR is directional the request signal is sent down a bearing and aircraft down that bearing respond. The time lag gives the radar the range, the radar head angle gives the bearing and anything the transponder sends is a bonus.

ADS-B is magic though.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

Late to the game here, but if it's a similar system as the existing DCDU system, it's not just an "OK" button.

From a random manual I have here:

----

To answer the message :

‐ Manually prepare the message by selecting the appropriate function key (WILCO, ROGER,

AFFIRM, NEGATIVE...), or automatically prepare the message via the FMGS.

‐ Send the message to the ground by using the SEND key.

-----

As to the type of messages they are used for, and again, the system under development could be very much different, it is listed like this:

----

The following message categories can be uplinked :

1. Clearances (immediate or deferred, speed, heading, altitude, offset, direct to, route clearance or

constraint etc...)

2. Report requests (confirm, position reports...)

3. Negotiation requests (ex : Can you accept ... ?)

4. Information messages.

----

Also, when ATC sends a route update through this system, it can be directly loaded into the FMC (Flight Management Computer), so the pilots don't have to fiddle it in manually. This saves time and improves accuracy, both of which are very important factors.

There's a lot more to it, but don't want to spam details here.

Have a great Christmas you all!

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Re: Am I missing something here?

"Repeating back "Turning to 270" doesn't mean that the pilot has done it, but it does mean that the pilot has heard the instruction and at some level understood it,"

Actually, simply repeating the order back is not a guarantee of understanding at any level and is really no different to clicking 'OK'.

I would also argue that there is less potential for misunderstanding with a written instruction when compared with a spoken one, especially when you take accents and individual pronunciation in to account. And, for what it's worth, what's to stop them using voip?

And as for whether "the message was [even] seen" I'm really not sure what your argument is here; are you suggesting that a pilot would simply click on an 'OK' acknowledgement button without understanding what it was (s)he was okaying? This seems to suggest that because the pilot is presented with an 'OK' button they will immediately, and without any thought, forget that they're flying an aeroplane and believe that they're actually just re-installing some drivers or clicking through the license. This scenario just isn't credible and neither is any objection based upon it.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

I've got to insist that SSR isn't radar insofar as the information gained by SSR is not derived from the reflected transmitter signal, regardless of which mode is being used (the difference between the A, B, C, D & S modes used by SSR is the timing of the interrogation pulses - the individual pulses themselves contain no information and are identical but the difference in timing between them tells the aircraft transponder which information is being requested).

If you're going to define radar as any means of obtaining information about the state of an aircraft then any method of communication that enables information to be passed from an aircraft to the ground would qualify as radar, including voice comms, engine monitoring data and even ADS-B (as ADS-B can be received by ground stations - ADS-B is the primary source of data for websites like Flightradar24 and Plane Finder).

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Vic
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Re: Am I missing something here?

I've got to insist that SSR isn't radar insofar as the information gained by SSR is not derived from the reflected transmitter signal,

You insist away. Radar is not defined as using a reflected pulse - that just happens to be the most prevalent type. RADAR stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging - which is exactly what SSR does. That's why it is called Secondary Surveillance Radar.

the difference between the A, B, C, D & S modes used by SSR is the timing of the interrogation pulses - the individual pulses themselves contain no information and are identical but the difference in timing between them tells the aircraft transponder which information is being requested

That's complete nonsense. Just wrong. The difference between the modes is primarily in the data returned by the transponder; mode S is the mode that permits selection of data returned, and that is by way of a phase-encoded value.

If you're going to define radar as any means of obtaining information about the state of an aircraft

I'm not. I'm defining radar as a means by which the direction to an object is determines by a directional antenna pointing at that object, and the range to it determined by the delay between the transmitted pulse and the received pulse.

And that is what SSR does.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Bob Wheeler

> and an aircraft in controlled airspace is always flying IFR

That is incorrect. Anyone with a clearance MAY fly in controlled airspace. And anyone with an aircraft CAN fly into it (aka airspace bust).

> it would be nice to know [blah blah]

Glad that you are interested. Get an aeronautical degree or related qualifications and join the industry then. Until then, I respectfully suggest it is unwise to speculate about things you know nothing about.

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Re: Am I missing something here?

I concede that you're correct - it's been a long time since I read up on SSR and my memory or initial understanding was flawed.

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Headmaster

ATCO's whim or standards?

Air traffic controllers are therefore conservative when assigning flight paths, just to be on the safe side.

Just to set the record straight, the actual coal-face controllers are not at liberty to be conservative or lax; it is all set down in ICAO doc 4444, and/or as the Manual of Air Traffic Control, Airways Operations Instructions, MATS or whatever it's named in the country concerned, as to what separation standards between aircraft are to be used, be they vertical, lateral or longitudinal.

While we're here, my sixpenn'th worth of comment is that any ATC instruction sent via a publicly accessible system will end in tears.

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Re: ATCO's whim or standards?

But like any standards manual, it can be amended, revised, and edited.

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Black Helicopters

Re: ATCO's whim or standards?

But like any standards manual, it can be amended, revised, and edited.

Yes they can, but separation standards are just about set in stone and are not changed on a whim.

Heli icon due to no fixed-wing one.

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Re: ATCO's whim or standards?

'Heli icon due to no fixed-wing one.'

Also they're just cooler.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ATCO's whim or standards?

> Just to set the record straight, the actual coal-face controllers are not at liberty to be conservative or lax

And just to bend the record again, I am glad that you have not had the misfortune of flying in Barcelona FIR, where the controllers have been "working to rule" for the past few years¹, refusing to give shortcuts, and making you fly the whole procedure with the excuse that they were so stressed about their seven figure² salaries being cut.

NB: Your comment is of course correct³, I just felt like venting.

¹ Might have changed now, but I doubt it. Not while AENA is still in charge.

² Eight figures in a few cases elsewhere in Spain.

³ Except the part about the "publicly accessible system". We've been working like that since WWII or thereabouts, and I am not aware of a single instance of deliberate and malicious third-party interference, let alone one having "ended in tears". Besides, we are perfectly capable of making a meal of our comms ourselves, no need for outside help with that.

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I smell a Die Hard moment and Bruce has hung up his vest !

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Always check whether the ammo in the clip is live or training/blanks. (And be aware that blanks can be very dangerous as well.)

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Big Brother

IMHO, implementation will have to show that there is no increase in "heads down" flying to read instructions, reply, etc.

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