When it comes to tracking planes around the world, this system has made the process a whole lot easier.
A new satellite surveillance network is now fully live and being trialled over the North Atlantic, after being launched by US firm Aireon.
The system uses a network of 66 space satellites to track aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) capabilities, which can now stream their exact position, including a plane’s position, altitude, direction and speed wherever they are in the world. Currently, the system is being used by NavCanada and UK air traffic control operator NATS.
NATS CEO Martin Rolfe said that the operation trial of the Aireon system over the North Atlantic is now enabling U.K. controllers to see where aircraft are positioned every eight seconds instead of pilots reporting their position every 14 minutes under the previous method. That change will allow for a variety of safety and operational improvements, according to Aireon.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the company’s CEO Don Thoma said that his surveillance system will immediately improve the way air traffic flows across the world’s oceans.
“This is a historic achievement on par with some of the most significant advances in aviation,” Mr Thoma said.
The eight second tracking will put an end to tracking gaps during a flight, while also aiding search and rescue missions, as well as report key elements of a planes location while flying.
In terms of operational benefits, 90 per cent of flights will be able to get the flight routes they want, up from 60 per cent, according to the release.
In addition to reduced costs for airlines, passengers should also experience fewer delays with the tracking system.
According to the BBC, the main benefit for passengers will be around more accurate times because of more direct flight paths and reliable schedules.
Controllers will aim to use the new system to craft flight profiles so that aircraft can neatly follow each other in to land.
“We would like to adopt some of the advanced management techniques that stream the way the aircraft cross the Atlantic, so that they can come in to have a constant descent into Heathrow, etc,” UK Nats safety director, Alastair Muir, told BBC News in January.
According to CBC, this system will allow tracking of aircraft in areas not typically detected by radio signals.
“70 per cent of the world — including oceans, mountainous regions and remote areas like the Arctic — is not covered (by ground radar),” they wrote.
“In those places, we don’t know exactly where planes are at any given time. Because of that lack of precision, air traffic controllers keep those planes pretty far apart — as much as 160 kilometres of separation.”
In short, having the exact position of a flight constantly updated every eight seconds, “controllers can reduce the space between planes to about 25 kilometres and make last-minute adjustments to flight paths. That means more planes can share the airspace at the same time.”
Aviation writer Howard Slutsken said the development was “the biggest advance in airline tracking since the advent of radar in World War 2”.
“If there’s an emergency, search-and-rescue teams can get there and know exactly where they’re going — where before they were guessing in many cases,” Slutsken said.
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