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AGC Safety Letter

N 3 Air-Ground Communications
Safety Letter AGC
Tzvetomir Blajev Coordinator Safety Improvement Initiatives

Clear, unambiguous, sions, radio interference, use of standard The introduction of 8.33 kHz radios has,
timely, and uninterrupt- phraseology, and prolonged loss of com- in combination with other programmes
ed communications are munication. such as RVSM, enabled us to increase the
crucial to the efficient capacity of the ATM system. However,
and safe management A European Action Plan for AGC Safety aircraft which are not 8.33 kHz-equipped
of air traffic. Not surpris- will be launched in May 2006. Those are now creating new hazards which
ingly, communications organisations which contributed to and need to be addressed.
problems constitute a factor in many endorse this action plan are totally com-
flight safety incidents. mitted to enhancing flight safety by advo- In time, controller pilot data link commu-
cating the implementation of the recom- nications (CPDLC) will supplement voice
The Air-Ground Communications (AGC) mendations it contains. as the medium for communicating a
Safety Improvement Initiative was large proportion of information, inten-
launched by the EUROCONTROL Safety In parallel with the introduction of the tions, requests, and instructions between
Team in 2004, and is addressing communi- action plan, EUROCONTROL is considering pilots and controllers, but voice commu-
cations issues identified in the Runway various strategies to reduce the incidence nications will always have a role to play
Incursion and Level Bust Safety of call sign similarity. Individual strategies, in tactical intervention and emergency
Improvement Initiatives as well as other or a combination of strategies, are being situations.
issues of concern such as call sign confu- evaluated to assess their potential effect
sion, undetected simultaneous transmis- in reducing call sign confusion events.


AGC Safety Letter


trollers and flight crew, and contributions
from stakeholders including the FSF, ECA,
Some recommendations concern stan-
dards, technology and awareness, but the
vast majority concern best practice. Many
experienced pilots and controllers may
feel that some of the best practice high-
lighted in this action plan is basic profes-
sional knowledge which should not
The European Action Plan for AGC Safety will be achieved by consistent and har- require reinforcement. Unfortunately,
is the result of the combined efforts of monised application of existing ICAO pro- analysis of incident reports concerning
organisations representing all areas of visions, increased awareness, and the air-ground communications safety sug-
aviation operations. adoption of best practice in air ground gests that what many may consider to be
communications. standard practice is not universal, and
The recommendations, when implement- aircraft operators and ANSPs will find it
ed, will assist in reducing the number of The recommendations are based on an useful to examine their training and
incidents, including level busts and run- analysis of over 500 air-ground commu- standard operating procedures to
way incursions, where communication nications safety events, suggestions put ensure that this best practice is not
problems are a contributory factor. This forward by over 300 experienced con- taken for granted.


The EUROCONTROL objective is to reduce call-sign confusion events by 80% by sign similarities prior to submission of
introducing strategies which are easy to integrate into existing processes, RPLs will significantly reduce the likeli-
involve zero effort for ANSPs, minimal effort for aircraft operators, and reduce hood of call sign confusion.
controller workload
Strategy 2 Deconfliction 2 weeks
Following a year-long study of existing call sign similarity. A similar initiative in prior to the start of the IATA season,
practices for the allocation of call signs, France has been a considerable success. using software tools developed by
rules and algorithms for qualifying call EUROCONTROL. This strategy would
sign similarity, and deconfliction scenar- Strategy 1 Internal detection and identify call sign similarities involving
ios, a set of strategies for reducing call deconfliction process by aircraft oper- aircraft of different operators.
sign similarity are being considered by ators, based on analysis of the recur-
EUROCONTROL. ring flight plan list (RPL) using soft- Strategy 3 Daily deconfliction
ware tools developed by EURO- process, using software tools integrat-
Strategy 0 Creation of a Call sign CONTROL. The great majority of call ed within existing processes.This strat-
Similarities Management Cell (CSMC) a sign similarities involve aircraft of the egy would identify call sign similarities
small group working with the whole same operator. Consequently, any pro- involving aircraft filing flight plans at
ATM community to reduce incidents of gramme which mitigates against call short notice.


AGC Safety Letter


Occurrences of non-8.33 kHz-equipped aircraft entering 8.33 kHz airspace are extremely rare. Nevertheless, operational
feedback shows that incidents can arise for example when the flight crew puts a Yankee in field 10 of the flight plan, but
does not notice that the radio has not been configured to operate in 8.33 kHz mode.
Peter Alty the 8.33 kHz Programme Manager emphasises that we cannot afford to become complacent about safety in
the 8.33 kHz Programme.

flight planned through an 8.33 kHz sector Mitigation actions

and the error is detected at a late stage. Training and awareness activities are
This hazard may result in additional work- essential. Flight plan checking and the
load, and the diversion itself may present display of the 8.33 kHz equipage status to
a risk to other aircraft. pilots are also vital. Just as important,
however, is the need to agree and imple-
Hazard 3: Mistuning ment strategic actions such as:
The selection of the wrong channel or
mistuning is also a hazard for 25 kHz the need to establish an 8.33 kHz poli-
channels. For 8.33 kHz channels, the addi- cy for State aircraft;
tion of an extra digit can increase the risk the enforcement of mandatory car-
of this hazard leading to communication riage by individual States;
problems and additional workload. the application of standard R/T proce-
dures by individual States;
Hazard 4: Handling of State aircraft subjecting all phases of the 8.33 kHz
Phased implementation which are not 8.33 kHz-equipped implementation to a thorough safety
8.33 kHz channel spacing was introduced The handling of State aircraft which are assessment.
in the ICAO EUR Region to meet the not 8.33 kHz-equipped can lead to
demand for VHF assignments in the aero- increases in controller workload, and this Negative Eight Point Three Three
nautical mobile radio communication ser- need to be taken into account in order to When a controller in a busy sector
vice band 118 to 137 MHz. Operations maintain safety levels. requests the flight crew to confirm its 8.33
were introduced above FL245 in October kHz capability, the last thing he or she
1999, and an expansion above FL195 is Hazard 5: Incorrectly fitted radios wants to hear is Negative Eight Point
planned for March 2007. This hazard covers problems which might Three Three. We clearly cannot afford to
arise where a radio does not perform in become complacent about safety in the
Main hazards accordance with the required specifica- 8.33 kHz Programme!
From a severity viewpoint, the 5 main tion.
hazards due to 8.33 kHz are:

Hazard 1: Entry of an aircraft which is

not 8.33 kHz-compliant into an
8.33 kHz sector.
The inability to tune to a 6-digit 8.33 kHz
channel means that, ultimately, the pilot
may not be able to communicate with the
controller. If the pilot attempts to commu-
nicate on 25 kHz channels, then there is a
risk of interference on the adjacent 8.33
kHz channels.

Hazard 2: Unplanned diversion of a

non-8.33 kHz compliant aircraft.
This hazard occurs when an aircraft which
is not 8.33 kHz-compliant is erroneously


More and more pilots are using data link
systems to obtain departure and oceanic
clearances or digital ATIS. Within a few
years the use of data link for the transfer
of control clearances will become the
norm, and more and more data link ser-
vices will come into service over the com-
ing decade.

Controller-Pilot Data Link Communi-

cations (CPDLC) is a system for direct data
link communication between the pilot
(via the aircraft and an Air Traffic Control
(ATC) centre) to the controller and vice
versa. CPDLC means that routine air traffic
instructions and requests are transmitted
as data link text messages, replacing tra-
ditional voice communications. CPDLC
allows air traffic controllers to manage a record of the messages, and makes call- is partially lost. However, this situation
larger number of aircraft, thereby increas- sign-confusion virtually impossible (prob- already exists in areas where ATC is con-
ing the capacity of the ATM system, but ability 10-12). CPDLC will reduce the voice ducted in two languages. The lost of situ-
communication workload, allow the voice ational awareness may be counterbal-
Will Data Link improve AGC channel to be available for urgent tactical anced by the introduction of Cockpit
safety? messages, and should help to create a Display of Traffic Information (CDTI)
The answer is YES CPDLC provides pilots calm operating environment. equipment. The pilots may spend more
and controllers with clear readable mes- time head downhandling data link com-
sages in a timely and unobtrusive manner Will Data Link replace voice munications rather than looking out for
to pilots and controllers, limits the proba- communications? other traffic, but the introduction of care-
bility of misunderstandings, provides a NO! Voice communication is faster, more fully designed crew procedures will miti-
flexible and allows for emotion. Tactical gate against this.
messages and instructions requiring
immediate action, especially within a CPDLC will not solve all of the AGC safety
TMA, will continue to be transmitted by problems but it does mitigate a number
voice communication rather than by data of voice communication hazards and
link for the foreseeable future. short comings.

Are there any issues associated For more information on data link and
with Data Link? CPDLC, consult:
Potentially YES. A pilots situational aware-
ness gained by listening to calls to and
from other aircraft on the same frequency

For further details, please contact:

Tzvetomir Blajev
Coordinator - Safety Improvement Initiatives
Safety Enhancement Business Division
Diretorate of ATM Programmes

Tel: +32 2 729 39 65