Aviation data cloud on the horizon

The prospect of an aviation cloud for real-time monitoring of flight data gained traction at a two-day summit in Kuala Lumpur organised by the UN agency in charge of global telecommunications in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Calls issued earlier this year at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) conference on global telecoms development for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft prompted industry leaders and experts to convene this week to explore how technology could provide such solutions.

The ITU is responsible for co-ordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, and assists in the development and coordination of technical standards. Earlier this month its UN counterpart ICAO which is responsible for setting global aviation standards announced that the industry will develop a performance-based approach in readiness for future standards requiring global flight tracking. A long term aviation industry goal agreed will see ICAO working with ITU to  hammer out a framework governing the remote storage of flight information.

In a communiqué released today, the ITU said that if flight data was stored on standards-based aviation clouds, the industry could apply state-of-the-art data analytics and data mining techniques in real-time which could lead to better far greater operational and environmental efficiency for commercial aircraft.

While existing technology could easily provide in-flight data streaming experts agreed that capacity questions remain in addition to many institutional issues such as the type of data to be transmitted; periodicity of transmission; continuous streaming; triggered transmission; spectrum requirements; reliability; liability; data security (integrity, availability, authenticity, non-repudiation); potential misuse of flight data; privacy; interoperability; cost and business models; ownership of data and access policies.

The ITU reported that a number of satellite operators highlighted recent developments to provide commercial broadband services for passengers, and indicated the possibility of using this for some flight data communications, although safety concerns were raised including implications for spectrum allocation.

Some participants called upon ITU to take action, at the earliest opportunity, to provide the necessary spectrum allocations as emerging aviation needs are identified. This includes spectrum for satellite and radio services used for safety of life aviation services.

The ITU said it would continue to study and address current and future spectrum requirements for flight tracking and real-time flight data monitoring and make appropriate allocations at the forthcoming World Radiocommunication Conferences, the next of which will take place in 2015.

The communiqué stated that the two day event highlighted the need for both ICAO and ITU to facilitate an open, multidisciplinary, multi stakeholder and performance-based approach towards the establishment of international standards for the use of an aviation cloud for real-time monitoring of flight data and identified the long-term tasks needed to move the discussion forward. This would include efforts by ICAO to develop and validate an operational need for real-time monitoring of flight data and identify minimum requirements.

Nancy Graham, director of ICAO’s air navigation bureau, said that an IATA-led Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) is already tasked with addressing the near-term needs for flight tracking and that ICAO in partnership with the ATTF will develop guidance material based on available flight tracking best practices. Pending the outcome of the ATTF, airlines will be encouraged to use existing equipment and procedures to support flight tracking. She called for the global tracking of airline flights as a priority to provide early notice of and response to abnormal flight behaviour, and thanked ITU for its offer to assist in developing long-term strategy for aviation data and information.

“This experts’ dialogue provided an opportunity to establish clear actions going forward, in particular related to ITU’s expertise in the fields of radio-frequency spectrum, satellites and ICT standardisation,” said Malcolm Johnson, director of ITU’s telecommunication standardisation bureau. “It will help instigate an international effort to ensure that an event like MH370 is not repeated.”

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Performance approach planned for future global flight tracking

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