Data Management

ARINC 424: Reading the Digital Sky

With over 44,000 flights circling the globe every day, aviation companies facilitating air transport need access to accurate navigation data.

With over 44,000 flights circling the globe every day, airlines, air traffic control agencies, and companies facilitating air transport need access to accurate navigation data. Accurate air navigation data is critical to schedule flights, to safely manage air traffic, and to create standardized changes for flight management systems onboard an aircraft or in the control tower. 

Now you may ask, how is this data possibly managed on such a large scale? Companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Lufthansa, and others create global navigation datasets by harvesting data from the 193 countries that are signatories to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Aviation data is published every 28 days into the industry-standard ARINC 424 air navigation data format. ARINC 424 datasets describe the air navigation infrastructure, including flight paths, regulatory airspaces, runway locations, navigation aids, and radio communication information.

The challenge for aviation companies is taking the highly-structured ARINC 424 data designed for aircraft flight systems and converting them into formats they can integrate within their air traffic management systems, dispatch operations, and flight analysis products.

What is ARINC 424?

ARINC 424 is a text-based format, originating in the 1970s, where each record is encoded into a fixed-length of 132 characters. Each data record contains a unique identifier and information representing an airport, heliport, runway, air route, airspace, waypoint, navigation aid, or arrival or departure route. 

Some of the complexities related to the ARINC 424 format include:

  • The path-terminator concept used to describe flight paths is based on direction, heading, and speed or distance – similar to orienteering with a compass.  

  • 132 characters are often not enough to describe the record, continuation records numbered by a sequence number provide a “line-return” to encode additional information.

  • The information encoded in each record may also cross-reference other records using their unique identifier.  

  • Each supplementary update to the standard uses a version number. For example, ARINC 424-18 references version 18 of the specification. Multiple versions of ARINC 424 record types can be represented in a single file.

How Does it Work?

Most modern data formats require specific coordinates to describe geographic data. This is where the challenge with ARINC 424 lies – converting navigation instructions into a deterministic geographic object representation. Spatial DNA’s ARINC 424 Connector for FME excels at interpreting navigation instructions and transforming them into geographic data objects that can be posted to any file format, database, or web service API.  

FME from Safe Software in Vancouver Canada contains over 450 geographic and attribute transformations, plus FME can read or write into over 900 files, databases, and web service formats, including AIXM, CAD, GIS, flight simulator, and 3D gaming engines. The Spatial DNA ARINC 424 Connector enables FME to read and write to the ARINC 424 format, and expose ARINC 424 data as geographic objects with properties that FME can directly manipulate as part of a data or application integration workflow.

Building upon the ARINC 424 Connector for FME, Spatial DNA has built a Data-as-a-Service called Aviation Data Engine. The Aviation Data Engine builds upon work by Spatial DNA to create a global data integration capability to move ARINC 424 data into an XML-based representation of aeronautical information called AIXM or to convert from AIXM to ARINC 424.  The Aviation Data Engine supports published versions of AIXM including 4.5 and 5.1 to enable data updates of aeronautical information management systems powering air traffic control or airline dispatch operations. Additionally, we support instrument procedure design tools that ingest ARINC 424 data directly.

The Aviation Data Engine

The Aviation Data Engine has been deployed in support of drone operations. There have been a number of incidents of drones encroaching on airspace and shutting down airport operations, or actual near-misses with commercial aircraft. A drone flight compliance company,, has leveraged the Aviation Data Engine to populate their flight database for controlled airspaces and airport locations, and has achieved Type 1 LOA certification of this process from the FAA. Drone operators can use to assess their planned flights for compliance to territory air regulations by identifying potential infringements of airspace during a planned flight, or by reviewing post-flight data.

The Airports Authority of India also uses the Aviation Data Engine to ingest ARINC 424 data from Boeing to support their pilot briefing system. In their use-case, they pre-load their Esri ArcGIS for Aviation charting database for the production of enroute aeronautical charts and instrument procedure diagrams.  

The sky is a busy place, but Spatial DNA has designed a solution to make the Digital Sky accessible. The ARINC 424 Connector for FME and the Aviation Data Engine enable automated solutions that provide up-to-date air navigation geodata files and services for aviation companies to integrate into their systems and products.

Want to learn about how you integrate the power of FME into your aviation company? Contact us: 


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