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Seamless Aeronautical Networking through integration of Data links, Radios and Antennas

Tags: Air

State of the Art - Background

Air traffic in Europe is expected to double by 2025 according to the Eurocontrol's last forecast, with an average growth of 2.7%-3.7% per year. On a worldwide basis, the number of passengers is expected to grow by 4.5% per year over the same timeframe. Future passenger and freight fleets will bring better efficiency and improved environmental performance, and will allow people all around the world to benefit from the essential connections that only air transport can deliver. In this context, an integrated aircraft communication system is of paramount importance to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness by ensuring a high degree of flexibility, scalability, modularity and reconfigurability.


SANDRA will develop and validate an architecture based on the innovative concept that the normal state of operation for the aircraft shall be to have multiple data or voice links simultaneously active. These links will be available based on the geographical location and on the particular subset of communication systems deployed on board, which may vary from aircraft to aircraft. No single service provider exists for all link types on a worldwide basis, thus on a typical flight around the globe the aircraft may utilize several link types provided by different providers to implement a large variety of services.

Following the SANDRA vision, data communication and digital voice links between the aircraft and ground stations or service providers will be shared between the various applicative domains through a fully IP-based network. So all links will carry IP packets, and the avionic radios' structure and functions will be developed to better handle IP packet-based communications. In addition in the SANDRA radio system each single radio element could be independently reconfigured to operate a specific radio link as required. This will reduce the number of radio sets carried considerably, and the number of types of radio will be reduced to just the one reconfigurable type, simplifying spares and maintenance operations.

Description of Work

The SANDRA project will design, implement and validate through in-flight trials an integrated aeronautical communications system based on an open architecture, a common set of interfaces and well-proven industry standards. Integration will be addressed at four different levels, namely:

- integration at service level, supporting a full range of services such as airline operations, cabin crew operations, in-flight and on-ground passenger services, airport operations, security services and air traffic management-related operations through a Service Oriented architectural approach;

- integration at network level having an IPv6 aeronautical network as final unification point, but addressing interoperability with network technologies such as ACARS and ATN/OSI, to ensure a realistic transition from the current procedures to the new system

- integration of several existing radio technologies into an Integrated Modular Radio (IMR) platform, allowing to dramatically reduce the size, weight, and cost in avionics with respect to current radio systems implemented as standalone equipments. The modular approach will additionally ensure the possibility to dynamically reconfigure each radio element to operate a specific type of radio link;

- integration at antenna and RF level by means of a very low profile satellite antenna prototype allowing the provision of reliable, low maintenance, broadband connectivity, especially meant for bandwidth demanding passenger and cabin applications;

- WiMAX adaptation for integrated multi-domain airport connectivity.

Expected Results

The integration of different service domains with very heterogeneous requirements through a cost-effective and flexible avionic architecture is one of the main challenges addressed by SANDRA. In this light, the SANDRA communication system will represent a key enabler for the global provision of distributed services for Common Decision Making based on the System Wide Information Management concept, and for meeting the high market demand for broadband passenger and enhanced cabin communication services.

Last but not least, the SANDRA concept is completely in line with SESAR activities and future plans for the deployment of European Air Traffic Management modernisation programme as well as with the final conclusions and recommendations of Eurocontrol/FAA Future Communications Study. In particular, SANDRA addresses many of the enablers identified by SESAR for the medium and long term implementation packages, although the proposed integrated approach for the global provision of distributed services covers a broader set of applications and service domains.

SANDRA Architectural Sketch
SANDRA Architectural Sketch