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Datalink, IPv6 Transition Among Avionics Standards Under AEEC Development

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the annual Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) general session to go virtual, their development of the form, fit, function and interfaces of modern avionics systems continues.

The Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) of the SAE Industry Technologies Consortia's ARINC Industry Activities (ARINC-IA) program presently has 17 new project papers in the works and is busy preparing another 35 supplements to existing ARINC standards. All of this activity was to be featured and discussed at the 2020 Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) general session, an annual gathering of the world’s leading airline and airplane manufacturing avionics engineers meeting to approve and adopt form, fit and functionality standards that establish interoperability between airborne and ground communications, navigation and surveillance to air traffic management (ATM) systems.

“Our host, American Airlines, and many devoted suppliers were working very closely with us to plan the AEEC/AMC meeting that was unable to take place in Phoenix. Rather than disappear completely, the AEEC Executive Committee felt that an on-line experience would be totally appropriate for focusing on AEEC’s core mission, which is of course the development of ARINC Standards. The on-line meetings will be a modest way of conducting its core business. It will bring the industry together which has been an important role for the AEEC since its inception,” Paul Prisaznuk, the AEEC executive secretary and program director, wrote in an email to Avionics International.

The plan for the remote version of the annual event is to feature two online sessions, one on May 12 to adopt new ARINC standards and another session May 14 to discuss new AEEC project proposals and AEEC’s work program for 2020, according to Prisaznuk.

As shown in the table below, many of the supplements and project papers that are up for adoption have implications for various ongoing aircraft and air traffic management (ATM) communication, navigation and surveillance capabilities that have major implications for the way aircraft interface with data both within their own networks and between airborne and ground systems.

Among the most prominent of the committee’s recent work is related to Draft 7 of ARINC Project Paper 686, “Roadmap for IPv6 Transition in Aviation.” This is the latest development in the committee’s work to establish the next generation internet protocol suite (IPS), which is a new network infrastructure based on internet protocol that promises to use commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products to support air-to-ground aeronautical safety services communications. It is in its earliest stages of development, with a targeted operational date of the mid to late 2020s.

“We have been working very closely with IATA, ICAO, EUROCAE, and RTCA to develop technical standards for a completely new aviation data communication infrastructure. ICAO Doc 9896, Manual on the Aeronautical Telecommunication Network (ATN) using Internet Protocol Suite (IPS) Standards and Protocol, is the foundational document,” Prisaznuk said.

The journey to this point began in 2017, when the executive committee first adopted a new activity dedicated to the development of an industry roadmap for the use of IPv6 in air-to-ground data communications used by avionics systems.

According to Cisco, IP is designed for use in identifying devices within interconnected systems of packet switched computer communication networks. With more than four billion unique IP addresses, IPv4 is the fourth revision of IP and the most widely deployed IP in use to connect devices to the internet. Cisco notes these IPs were completely allocated to specific geographic regions in 2011.

The graphic here taken from SITAONAIR's November 2019 update to its ACARS multilink strategy, shows how the ACARS global datalink service provider envisions adaptation to new networks. This is another important aspect of the Internet Protocol Suite concept. SITAONAIR

IPv6 is the next-generation IP designed to replace IPv4 and will allow more users and devices to communicate over the internet by using bigger numbers to create IP addresses. Whereas IPv4 addresses were 32 bits long, IPv6 addresses will be 128 bits long, according to Apple.

While IPv6 will continue to work in harmony with IPv4, the Internet Engineering Task Force first released the working standard for IPv6 in 1998. Like all other industries, aviation is ready to adopt the latest version.

“Private networks using the Internet Protocol Suite (IPS) will be the backbone of this new aviation infrastructure. The networks will use IPv6 addressing and Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS). Data comm services will be migrating from ACARS to ATN/OSI and eventually ATN/IPS. In some cases, it will be possible to move directly to ATN/IPS and skip the intermediate steps,” Prisaznuk said. “Even though the transition period may be long, the expected end-state will yield efficient data comm services that will reduce the airlines’ reliance on voice communication and enable CNS/ATM automation to move to the next level.”

A joint in-person meeting (IATA, ICAO, EUROCAE, RTCA, AEEC) recently took place to move the concepts and standards forward, and an online meeting during March 9-13, 2020. ARINC Project Paper 858: Internet Protocol Suite for Aeronautical Safety Services - Technical Requirements is expected to be mature in late 2020 or early 2021, according to Prisaznuk.

Wizz Air, a low cost carrier based in Hungary, in January become the first carrier in Europe to deploy SITAONAIR’s airline-integrated ACARS over IP service. Wizz Air

AEEC’s mid-term session in Seattle also featured the approval of data link standards changes with IPS related implications. In October, AEEC approved Supplement 4 to ARINC 758. These changes are designed to ease avionics interfaces with newer L-Band satellite and other Internet Protocol (IP) equipment for improved air-to-ground communications. The L-band and IP standards changes stem from September 2016, when AEEC published a proposal by Honeywell and Collins Aerospace — then Rockwell Collins — to change avionics standards to make them compatible with IP-based communication.

Supplement 4 is tasked with adding Ethernet ports as defined by ARINC Specification 664 Part 2. An example of enablement provided by the supplement is allowing an aircraft’s communications management unit to communicate with newer L-Band satellite communications equipment that has been recently introduced or in development, such as Iridium’s Certus multi-service communications platform designed to provide safety services communications, with two voice channels and aircraft communications and reporting system (ACARS) network data link connectivity simultaneously.

Another major IPS related standard being updated is ARINC 618, or the air-to-ground protocols that are used to link aircraft onboard systems with ACARS networks. That will come in the form of Supplement 9 to ARINC 618, which describes simple ACARS messaging over IP. Prisaznuk said the update will help develop an application that will use Ethernet interfaces between the CMU and the various transceivers. The transfer of ACARS messages using 'super blocks' instead of traditional ACARS message blocks will be defined.

Prisaznuk believes it’s too early to tell how the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on airlines’ ability to earn revenue and operate as normal will affect AEEC’s development of the standards and specifications that define avionics equipment.

“It’s much too early to say what the long-term effects of C-19 will be on the AEEC. We do know the ARINC Standards are enduring and they will easily survive this crisis,” Prisaznuk said. “We are encouraged by the enthusiasm of so many volunteers in industry to keep AEEC’s work program moving forward. We know that the ARINC Standards are a solid foundation to build our future upon. The AEEC Executive Committee will keep its fingers on the pulse of the industry and respond accordingly with the products and services that are appropriate for these times. I certainly want to use this opportunity to wish my many friends in industry well in their personal and professional lives.”