Taxiing airplanes could soon get flight info wirelessly

A successful test earlier this year based on the WiMax standard is the first step in updating the current method of transmitting flight data.


Airlines have made great efforts to update their tech, including replacing bulky flight manuals with iPads. But pilot teams still receive flight information updates the same way they've been doing for decades: over radio voice comms, as current wireless solutions don't support high-enough volume data transfer. Last February, a joint NASA and FAA team sent flight updates to a taxiing airplane over a wireless communication network for the first time, NASA said Tuesday.

The team used prototype hardware to send the info over a new wireless system, called Aeronuatical Mobile Airport Communications System (AeroMACS), which is based on the WiMAX standard. To test it, the team sent the aircraft multiple applications while updating flight information without data loss — even as the FAA Bombardier Global 5000 test aircraft taxiied around the runway at 60 to 70mph. The test was strictly an exchange with a ground-based aircraft, so it's unclear whether the system would work while the aircraft is mid-flight.

Making airport-to-airplane communications wireless isn't just a boon for quick data transfer: The current airport communications system requires plenty of underground cabling, which is difficult to repair and maintain. But updating airport technology to the 21st century could put them at risk of hacking and digital intrusion, so the next set of end-to-end AeroMACS tests will involve multiple airports and security measures.