Space-based North Atlantic Air Traffic Surveillance Trial Begins

On April 2, Aireon, the first ever real-time, global air traffic surveillance system, became fully operational in trial use over the North Atlantic. The move is widely regarded as a milestone in aviation safety and efficiency.

Aireon’s space-based automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) system provides real-time air traffic surveillance and tracking to all ADS-B equipped aircraft regardless of their location. Prior to Aireon’s system coming on-line, traditional ground-based surveillance covered just 30% of the globe, meaning civil aviation authorities, commercial carriers and related industry stakeholders relied upon position updates from aircraft every 10-14 minutes to track aircraft outside of radar coverage, not the real-time updates that the Aireon service provides.

“For the first time in history, we can surveil all ADS-B-equipped aircraft anywhere on Earth,” said Don Thoma, Aireon CEO. “Our air transportation system has operated with a safe but less than efficient system in the 70% of the world that does not have real-time surveillance.  With the launch of our space-based ADS-B service, Aireon now provides a real-time solution to that challenge — one that will radically optimise flight safety and efficiency. The aviation industry has now joined the rest of the 21st century where real-time connectivity is relied upon for doing business.”

According to a joint analysis by NAV CANADA and NATS – the first air navigation service providers (ANSPs) to use the service, the Aireon system is expected to reduce overall flight safety risks by approximately 76% in the North Atlantic.

Improved visibility and control over previously un-surveilled airspace — especially across oceanic regions — will allow airlines to fly routes at optimal speeds and levels, delivering expected cost savings of up to US$300 per transatlantic flight, plus reducing carbon dioxide emissions by two tonnes per flight, based on an analysis conducted by NATS and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Use of the Aireon system over the Atlantic allows for air traffic controllers to trial the reduction of aircraft in-trail separation distances from 40 nautical miles (nm) to just as little as 14nm, making the airspace more flexible, predictable and able to accommodate the growth predicted in the coming years.

“To know the position, speed and altitude of every ADS-B equipped aircraft in oceanic airspace – in real-time – is a transformational change to how our controllers manage air traffic,” said Neil Wilson, president and CEO of NAV CANADA. “The Aireon system provides an immediate boost to aviation safety and airlines will benefit from more fuel-efficient routings and flight levels. Over 95% of the North Atlantic traffic is already ADS-B equipped so the fuel savings, along with the reduced carbon dioxide emissions will be attained very quickly.”

Regulations mandating ADS-B equipage on aircraft have already been implemented throughout the world, going into effect in the United States in January 2020 and in Europe in June 2020. Other countries are in the process of drafting mandates for implementation over the next few years.

Martin Rolfe, NATS CEO, said: “The trial in the North Atlantic, the busiest oceanic airspace in the world, with over 500,000 flights every year and a forecasted 800,000 flights per year by 2030, will demonstrate to the entire aviation industry, that global, space-based ADS-B can revolutionise the service that we provide to our customers and the travelling public by transforming the way we perform air traffic management over remote regions.”