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4 Advancements in On-Board Communication Devices

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Technology is changing the way we do business everywhere, and it’s no different in the aviation world. The need to keep up with the rest of the world and the demand for quick, reliable information means operators are updating their in-flight technology. If you haven’t already seen this new aviation technology in the cockpit, you will soon:

1. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast

US Government Photo
ADS-B is the livelihood of the FAA’s NextGen program, which promises to increase capacity for the nation’s expanding number of aircraft. ADS-B will eventually replace radar services in the country’s airspace. It’s a satellite-based system instead of a ground radar system, which means improved accuracy and fewer mistakes.

ADS-B works by using GPS data to relay precise information to pilots and controllers about an aircraft’s location, speed and route of flight. The information is much more accurate than current systems, and it also depicts real-time weather, terrain and traffic advisories. It allows pilots to see direct information about other ADS-B equipped aircraft from the cockpit, an element that hasn’t existed before.

The FAA expects nationwide coverage of ADS-B to be in place by 2013. By 2020, all aircraft operating in certain airspace and routes will be required to be ADS-B equipped.

2. Data Comm

US Government Photo

If you’ve heard the radio congestion at JFK International Airport, then you know it can be next to impossible to get a word in. Currently, pilots and controllers communicate over the radio with voice transmissions, and radio congestion is common. It can be a safety hazard, especially around busy airports.

Data Comm provides a new way to communicate, similar to text messaging. Data link messages can be sent from the controller to a pilot, or vice versa, appearing in textual format on the pilot’s computer screen. In addition, Data Comm provides a way to communicate in remote locations or in the event of radio failure.

When implemented, Data Comm will cut down on radio congestion and reduce the number of errors in messages between pilots and controllers. The accuracy a lengthy departure clearance, for example, can be improved with the use of a textual format.

3. Electronic Flight Bags

Photo © Sarina Houston

EFBs are every pilot’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to trade a 70-pound suitcase full of manuals for a shiny new iPad? Flight manuals are heavy, costly and time-consuming to keep updated, and EFBs consolidate the pounds of baggage into a simple hand-held device. EFBs are currently making their way into aircraft all over the world in the form of iPads and other devices.

In addition to the large amount of data that can be held in EFBs, they can also provide GPS moving map displays and video surveillance from the flight attendant stations and galleys to the cockpit -- a safety feature important to pilots after the 9/11 tragedy -- without adding costly equipment to the aircraft.

Pilots can also receive push notifications from their operations department, check email and even text message. With 3G and Wi-Fi readily available, pilots can update company publications and check the schedule as often as they’d like.

4. Sat Phones

Photo ©Claire Rowland/Flickr

For those flying to remote locations where typical radio, telephone and internet communication may not exist, satellite phones are essential. Popular with the military and NASA, these phones are now being found in cockpits of commercial jets and general aviation aircraft.

Sat phones are mobile phones that use satellites instead of cell towers. Some have internet access and even text messaging. In remote locations, they are sometimes the only method of communication.

Recently, long-haul operators have been eyeing satellite phones as a backup method of communication. And as recently as January 2012, Cirrus announced that it was installing a new communication system in all of its new aircraft that includes a sat phone for pilots and passengers. The phones can be used in-flight, and a pilot or passenger can call and listen directly through his or her headset.

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