The original plan was for datalink to be required for all aircraft operating in Europe above FL285 from 5 Feb 2020. But on 8 Jul 2019, the EU announced that this would not be required for several categories of aircraft, the main two being:
- Aircraft with a certificate of airworthiness first issued before 1 Jan 2018 and fitted prior to this date with FANS 1/A.
- Aircraft with 19 seats or less and a MTOW of 45359 kg (100000 lbs) or less, with a first individual certificate of airworthiness issued before 5 Feb 2020.
In other words – most GA/BA aircraft!
Added to that, in early Decemebr 2019 the EU Commission approved plans to pass an additional resolution that makes a bunch of other aircraft exempt too:
Aircraft permanently exempt:
Aircraft which have up to 5 Feb 2022 to do the avionics retrofit:
This mandate was actually supposed to come into force back in Feb 2015, but got delayed to Feb 2020 due to technical issues with the system, particularly disconnections, known as ‘provider aborts’ – which is where an aircraft loses datalink connection with the ground for more than six minutes.
The high amount of these provider aborts has led some sectors (Maastricht UAC, France, Switzerland, and Portugal) to implement a ‘White List’, which effectively means that CPDLC is only provided to those aircraft with avionics that are known to suffer a lower provider abort rate. The White List does not currently impact FANS1/A aircraft – if you have this installed, you can use this in Europe without any issues.
In their original postponement of the mandate back in 2015, the EU said the following:
“This excessive rate of random provider aborts causes a degradation in the network performance potentially presenting aviation safety risks by increasing the pilots and controllers’ workload and creating confusion leading to a loss of situational awareness.”
Their goal was to get the number of provider aborts down to 1 per 100 flight hours. By mid-2018, the number had dropped to a rate of 4.4 per 100 flight hours, and data from this year has that figure down to 3.9 per 100.
Added to that, they wanted to get at least 75% of flights across the network filing with datalink. Current data suggests this is still lingering at around the 40% mark. So if the datalink mandate had been implemented as planned in Feb 2020 without these new exemptions, that would have meant that approximately 60% of the traffic would have been restricted to below FL290!
As the EU make clear in their new ruling, that is ultimately why the new raft of exemptions has now been brought in, ahead of the Feb 2020 mandate:
“Acknowledging the ongoing data link implementation issues and corrective actions taken and recognising the objective that at least 75 % of the flights should be equipped with data link capability, the criteria for exemptions should be amended. Those criteria should remain effective, without placing an undue economic burden on specific operator categories which contribute significantly less to the overall number of flights. Such categories should include operators of aircraft with Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) 1/A systems installed, operators of older aircraft, and of aircraft designed to carry 19 passengers or less.”
Ultimately, when the datalink mandate comes in on 5 Feb 2020, it now looks like most GA/BA aircraft will be exempt from this, meaning that those without CPDLC be able to continue to operate above FL285.
As for the White List, Maastricht UAC have told us that beyond Feb 2020 this will continue to operate in exactly the same way as it does now – with Maastricht UAC, France, Switzerland and Portugal continuing to only provide CPDLC to aircraft known to suffer low abort rates. Although there are plans to expand the White List beyond those four sectors, no firm dates have been set yet.
Thanks to the European Business Aviation Association for their help with this article!