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Aircraft flying into UK and Irish airspace are set to enjoy seamless data link service as they enter continental airspace from the North Atlantic and move across Western Europe. This is a result of UK NATS and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) working together with SITA, the air transport communications specialist, to deliver Controller Pilot Data Link Communication(CPDLC) services to the British and Irish area control centers in compliance with the EC regulation 2009/29, which comes into force as part of the Single European Sky initiative. 

The SITA service and systems support long haul and short haul versions of CPDLC. Long haul aircraft use a Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) version already implemented over the Atlantic Ocean. Aircraft with FANS systems will now use the SITA network and gateway to communicate with CPDLC systems in the UK and Ireland domestic centers. Short haul aircraft use the ICAO standard ATN version of CPDLC which works over the VDL mode 2 protocol, these aircraft will now use the SITA VDL ground stations and gateway to connect to the same UK and Ireland domestic center CPDLC systems.

Richard Deakin, CEO, NATS, said: "NATS is dedicated to further enhancing our excellent safety record and improving efficiency for our customers and with increasing cost pressures we know we have to be innovative with our solutions. For this investment, our requirements are very specific and our timeline is quite aggressive but we are confident that SITA is able to provide a fully integrated system that combined the delivery of infrastructure and communication services."

Eamonn Brennan, CEO, Irish Aviation Authority, said: "This joint procurement with NATS is part of the IAA's ongoing dedication to the international development of airspace and SITA's service is a great step towards seamless data link over Irish and UK airspace, and support to the UK-Ireland FAB in our joint efforts to meet and exceed SES interoperability requirements."

Philip Clinch, SITA Vice President, Aircraft Communications, said: "This major investment by NATS and the IAA is in line with the introduction of CPDLC across Europe but more than that, it supports FANS services seamlessly from oceanic service across the continent.  NATS faces the challenge of complying with both oceanic and EU Single Sky regulations and SITA is happy to help it implement data link services covering both these domains with their different data link mandates."

The SITA data link front end processor (DL-FEP) gateway which relay both FANS and ATN data traffic uses a Pro-ATN router provided by SITA's partner Egis Avia to connect to the SITA ground stations providing ICAO VDL mode 2 service. SITA has already deployed this gateway at NATS' area control centers at Swanwick, Prestwick and its corporate and technical center in Whiteley.

As part of its ongoing commitment to the industry, and to support the service being provided to NATS and the IAA, SITA is upgrading 25 existing VHF ground stations in the UK, Ireland and surrounding countries. It is also investing in a further five new VHF ground stations across the UK mainland and Ireland.

In total, SITA operates a global network of over 1,200 VHF ground stations worldwide. SITA AIRCOM data link supports more than 180 airlines with more than 8,500 individual aircraft in routine airline operation. More than 1,200 customer aircraft use advanced Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) avionics, enabling pilots to use data link instead of voice for communications with air traffic control.