SANDRA project demonstrate in flight new IP based avionic communication system

The Airbus A320-232 D-ATRA, DLR's largest fleet member, has been in operation since the end of 2008. Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

 DLR ATRA research aircraft - The Airbus A320-232 D-ATRA, DLR's largest fleet member, has been in operation since the end of 2008. Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0). 

 24-26th June 2013, Oberpfaffenhofen (Germany) - Flight trials have just been completed at the German Aerospace Center to test a new avionic communication system based on IPv6, modular and flexible radio architecture and multiple links.

It has been a “premiere”: for the first time the new datalink named AeroMACS devised by Action Plan 17 in conjunction with two legacy data links Inmarsat BGAN and VDL2, integrated on an IPv6 framework have been tested in real flight environment. Also seamless transmission of Air Traffic Services data took place on legacy links and on new IP based links by means of Mobile IP/SNDCF, which is an ICAO protocol originally designed for ground-ground networks.

DLR made available the Airbus A320 “ATRA” (Advanced Technology Research Aircraft) which was equipped with the SANDRA communication system. For the flight trials, three data links has been used: AeroMACS, BGAN and VDL2. Applications covering all avionic domain services were integrated and seamlessly transmitted over these data links and their performances were measured. It was tested seamless handovers between legacy (VDL2, BGAN) and non-legacy (AeroMACS) data links. An AeroMACS prototype network has been tested for air-ground communication during parking, departure and landing phases.

The different applications using for the tests were ranging from ATN/OSI Cockpit Pilot Data Link Communications, Flightstrips, Arrival/Departure manager, ATC VoIP, Electronic Flight Folder, Web chart,  Web Flight Planning, Cabin Crew/Passenger applications running on laptop, smartphones, tablet via WIFI access Point (such as email web browsing, Skype™) and Telemedicine.

The EU FP7 project SANDRA (Seamless Aeronautical Networking through integration of Data links Radios and Antennas) started in 2009, aimed at designing, developing and demonstrating an innovative integrated aircraft communication system. The project, leaded by Selex ES, a Finmeccanica company, has 30 partners: German Aerospace Center (DLR), Thales Alenia Space, Thales Aerospace UK, Thales Avionics, Thales Research and Technologies –UK, Airtel ATN, Acreo, Alenia Aeronautica, Altys, Bradford University, Cyner, Dassault Aviation, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), EADS Innovation Works France, Gatehouse, IMST, Intecs, INRIA, Lionix, Monitorsoft, NLR, RadioLabs, SITA, Slot Consulting, TriaGnoSys, University of Twente, University of Pisa, Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg.

SANDRA will allow setting-up new Air Transport Management (ATM) services which envisage the exchange of vast amount of data; indeed the ATM paradigm will shift, in the next ten years, from voice communications between air traffic controllers and pilots to an air traffic control management system based on data communication among computers, where human intervention will be needed only for emergency events.

Most of the technical details and results will be published on after public deliverables will be approved by the European Commission. First results can be found in the open access book “Future Aeronautical Communications” accessible for free on

"AeroMACS will provide broadband wireless data connectivity over airports, dedicated to aeronautical industry. SANDRA project has successfully demonstrated - for the very first time - the use of AeroMACS in an airport and on a commercial aircraft, and validated this technology also as part of the future IPv6 based mobile network " has said  Massimiliano Amirfeiz, of Selex ES Avionics Line of Business.

At DLR we started with a vision of networking the sky about ten years ago. After the successful lab and flight trials of the SANDRA project, the SANDRA consortium paved the way for targeting IP based avionic communication in the next decade” declared Dr. Simon Plass, from the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation.

Dr. Markus Werner, Managing Director of TriaGnoSys, said, “We use digital communications in every facet of our lives. Just look at the number of people who have smartphones and tablets. But often aircraft rely on a combination of decades-old analogue communications and a separate satellite-based system, making cockpit communications both complex to use and inefficient. SANDRA is bringing cockpit communications into the 21st century by simplifying the process for pilots and providing the platform for many more advanced services.

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