AIREON GOES LIVE! North Atlantic trials mark new chapter for aviation

Aireon, the first ever real-time, global air traffic surveillance system, is now fully operational and in trial use over the North Atlantic.

This historic milestone ushers in a new era of safety and efficiency that will revolutionise the way people fly as, for the first time, air traffic controllers will have real-time data on the position of aircraft anywhere in the world – including previously unsurveilled airspace.

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Aireon’s space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) system provides real-time air traffic surveillance and tracking to 100 per cent of ADS-B equipped aircraft around the world.

Prior to Aireon’s system entering into service, traditional ground-based surveillance covered just 30 per cent 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 chief executive. “Our air transportation system has operated with a safe but less than efficient system in the 70 per cent 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 optimize 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.”

The Aireon system is expected to reduce overall flight safety risks by approximately 76 per cent in the North Atlantic according to a joint analysis by NAV CANADA and NATS – the first air navigation service providers (ANSP) to use the service. 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 immense 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 chief executive 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 percent 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 chief executive, 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 revolutionize the service that we provide to our customers and the travelling public by transforming the way we perform air traffic management over remote regions.”

Eight years in the making, Aireon’s ADS-B payloads are hosted on the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation – the final deployment of which took place January 11, 2019. After receiving control of the final six ADS-B payloads from Iridium on February 7, 2019, Aireon completed payload testing, validation and calibration stages prior to launching the full system into operation to support current ANSP customers.

“Improved safety and cost savings for all aviation stakeholders is just a start. The revolutionary impact of the real-time location data and historical tracking information of Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data will create innovations that we have not even imagined. The opportunities for comprehensive and continuous benefits for the whole aviation community are at our fingertips. We would not be able to achieve this without our dedicated investors, NAV CANADA, Iridium Communications, NATS, Enav, The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and Naviair, and our partners and launch customers. This is a great day for us all,” said Thoma.