Incorporating oceanic regions and remote areas of the planet, space-based ADS-B will offer Business Aviation operators truly global coverage. But will space-based ADS-B require yet another upgrade? Dave Higdon explores…
The world's air-traffic surveillance standard technology will undergo a sea-change come 2020 as most of the world's industrial countries complete their changeover to air traffic management using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), replacing radar.
The weak link for both radar-based and ADS-B-based air-traffic management, however, is the ground network required to link the aircraft data to air traffic controllers. A ground-based network precludes coverage over oceans and wide swaths of the planet still lack the ground stations and the connecting network.
But, starting at year's end, a new surveillance system goes on-line after two years of work establishing its network – and this one promises to cover the earth from pole-to-pole at all altitudes.
Employing the same ADS-B Out technology already in use in aircraft around the world, the satellite-based ADS-B system comes from Aireon, a Virginia-based company which works in partnership with major Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) from around the world, among them NAV Canada, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), Navair and others.
In an arrangement with Iridium Communications, Aireon launched its first ten satellites hosting its ADS-B systems in January 2017, and through a series of additional Iridium launches by partner SpaceX, Aireon expects to fly its ADS-B system on a total of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites by the end of 2018. All will be equipped with the Aireon ADS-B hardware.
After Iridium and Aireon complete their own flight checks, the system will provide global surveillance under contract with subscribing national air-traffic management authorities. The FAA is expected to sign up for coverage over its oceanic flight-information regions.
The net result will be global air-traffic surveillance covering the entire planet – its oceans, deserts, mountains and plains – continually and without breaks in coverage.
Not only does the Aireon system offer the world an unbroken aircraft-surveillance network, but the satellite coverage opens the way to multiple other benefits – all with the same airborne equipment already installed in thousands of aircraft around the world.
The Global ADS-B Standard Already In-Use
From speaking with a sample of business aircraft operators known to fly internationally one of the first reactions to hearing of Aireon's new global-surveillance network could generally be summarized as, “Oh, great – another equipment mandate.”
But Aireon's satellite-based surveillance network builds on the equipment already required by participating nations under the ICAO standards. Aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out transponders are tracked automatically with their position broadcast in real-time by both Aireon's satellite system and the ground-based network.
That means operators equipping for the global standard are already equipped for Aireon's system, since ADS-B Out 1090MHz with Extended Squitter is mandated throughout the world.
Aircraft in the US that don’t fly above Flight Level 180 that use the 978 Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) will not be seen by the Aireon satellite network, however. The Aireon satellite network receives only ADS-B broadcasts on 1090 MHz, the global standard for ADS-B.
What are the Added Benefits?
Air traffic surveillance isn't the only benefit available from Aireon's satellite-based system. There are several others, also worth examining.
In mid-August Aireon, in partnership with the IAA, opened free registration to air navigation service providers, aircraft operators, regulators and Search and Rescue (SAR) organizations which can pre-register for the Aireon global Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT) service.
When operational in Q1 2019, Aireon's ALERT service will provide the last known position of an ADS-B-equipped aircraft that is in an apparent distress state or experiencing a loss in communication.
The service is only available to aviation stakeholders and offers precise position reports, free of charge. The Aireon ALERT system will operate out of the IAA North Atlantic Communications Centre in Ballygirreen, County Clare, Ireland.
With Aireon’s unique space-based ADS-B service, Aireon ALERT promises to close a major gap in the world's air-traffic surveillance networks and prevent repeats of aircraft going missing for weeks, months and sometimes years (as in the case of Air France 447 and Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370).
Both accidents illustrated a critical need within the aviation industry for global tracking – something the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) subsequently tackled.
With Aireon's ALERT service ANSPs, aircraft operators, regulatory agencies and SAR will have access, on request, to exact position data for an aircraft in distress over the oceans, remote areas and anywhere else they may need aircraft position information in an emergency.
“Our facility will be providing Aireon ALERT services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Peter Kearney, Chief Executive Officer, IAA elaborated. “As long as an aircraft is broadcasting on 1090 MHz ADS-B, we will be able to locate it anywhere worldwide. This is a unique and secure cloud-based service, designed to the highest data protection standards.”
By combining its satellite-based ADS-B surveillance with the FlightAware online flight-tracking service Aireon is able to offer what it calls “GlobalBeacon” as a solution to the ICAO requirement for Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS).
GADSS addresses all phases of flight under all circumstances including distress. GADSS will maintain an up‐to‐date record of the aircraft progress and, in case of a crash, forced landing or ditching, the location of survivors, the aircraft and recoverable flight data.
By combining FlightAware’s data processing platform and web-interface with Aireon’s space-based ADS-B network, GlobalBeacon transcends borders and Flight Information Regions (FIRs) to provide 100% global coverage. GlobalBeacon allows airlines and aircraft operators to exceed GADSS standards and recommended practices for flight tracking.
Under current requirements airliners must be capable of generating a GADSS report every 15 minutes starting in November 2018. By 2021 the automatic position reports must come once a minute for aircraft in distress.
ADS-B Data for Analysis
Aireon’s space-based ADS-B service will store an archive of aircraft location and movements data for all ADS-B equipped aircraft worldwide.
Current aviation data suffers from several limitations. Aviation data sets are stitched together using many regional or country sources. These sources use different technologies and systems to assemble the aircraft movement data.
Primary and secondary radars, land-based ADS-B and Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) are confined to line-of-sight surveillance in densely populated areas.
As a result, existing data sources do not offer a complete or single picture and often have significant gaps in fleet data, regional limitations in unique Flight Information Regions (FIRs) and incomplete data across major air traffic routes.
Most airspace analysis is done with less-than-accurate assumptions and relies on scheduled information and flight plans, rather than actual routes and diversions, which often differ from the original plan when the realities of traffic congestion and weather events intercede.
Starting imminently, Aireon plans to introduce a comprehensive data set of global ADS-B equipped aircraft movements, which promises to significantly enhance the analytical capabilities of the aviation industry.
The Aireon data will provide accurate aircraft location and ADS-B message information to support global air traffic analysis, airspace and air route design, capacity and resources planning, predictability analysis for arrivals and departures and fleet optimization.