Aviation communication solutions have evolved from the early days of flags and light signals. Pilots needed an efficient air traffic management system (ATMS) to communicate with ground control, so modern aviation features integrated solutions. The market offers everything from rudimentary high-frequency (HF) radios to sophisticated data and satellite systems. Pilots and ground control today have systems that support voice, video, fax, and data communications.
Communication Solutions for Pilots and Ground Control
Every air traffic management system is different and features custom hardware and software solutions. Communication hardware includes VHF/HF radios, CPDLC devices, and SATCOM units. Software solutions span everything from audio and video enhancement tools to network connectivity and back-end programs for telecom interfaces. Here’s an overview of the popular ways pilots communicate with ground control:
1. VHF & HF Radios
Very High-Frequency radios are the most popular devices pilots use to communicate with air traffic control teams. The solution involves a transmitter on the ground and a receiver on the plane. VHF transmits clear voice communications that travel in a straight path between the plane and the air traffic control tower.
The curvature of the earth and obstructions like buildings and mountains can disrupt VHF communication, which is why HF frequencies are still used. When pilots travel over oceans, where the earth’s curvature may present difficulties, they use HF. The frequencies can bounce off the ionosphere and maneuver obstructions.
HF radio transmissions are slower than VHF radio frequencies but can travel much further. Pilots turn on HF radios by pressing a button on the tuning and control panel (TCP). The TCP is used to tune and control VHF and HF frequencies. Pilots often use multiple VHF radios and HF backup frequencies. Having options allows quality communications through different frequencies.
2. CPDLC and SATCOM
Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) is a service that pilots use to communicate with ground control when VHF/HF connections falter. CPDLC is a form of text messaging that allows communication without voice. Ground teams can use CPDLC to send instructions concerning altitude, speed, heading, and radio frequencies.
Pilots can also request to change altitude or course when navigating thunderstorms. CPDLC is the primary communication when traveling over the Atlantic, with HF as a backup. Pilots establish a CPDLC connection by logging on to the ATC unit. Each unit has a unique code. When a message is received, it pops up on the screen, and pilots can accept, cancel, or reject it. Pilots can also press the SAT button on the TCP to bring up the satellite communications (SATCOM) menu.
SATCOM allows pilots and ground control to make voice calls, similar to a mobile phone. The solution uses the INMARSAT system, which features connected geostationary satellites. Pilots use pre-assigned shortcodes or direct dial numbers featuring a country code and telephone number. Calls are beamed to the satellite network and routed to the ground towers.
Air Traffic Management System
The air traffic management system provides an integrated solution for managing the air space and traffic flow to prevent accidents. Modern air traffic control and communication systems support voice, video, facsimile, and data transmissions. Ground control teams also use aviation communications solutions to process the audio or video signal for quality, clarity, and transcription. ATMS features superior hardware and software customized for ground towers.
Jeena Alfredo is a passionate digital marketer at The Business Goals. She is working with other companies to help them manage the relationship with The Business Goals for the publications.