Aireon Enlists New ANSPs for Space-Based Surveillance System

AIN Air Transport Perspective » January 6, 2014
Iridium plans to launch its new Next satellites into low-earth orbit between 2015 and 2017.
December 31, 1969, 1:45 PM

Three new air navigation service providers (ANSPs) have agreed to invest in the future Aireon satellite-based air traffic surveillance system, joining anchor investors Nav Canada and Iridium Communications. Italy’s ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority and Denmark’s Naviair will together invest $120 million in the system, Aireon announced in December.

Nav Canada and satellite company Iridium Communications announced an agreement-in-principle to form Aireon in June 2012. At present a subsidiary of Iridium, Aireon plans to provide subscribing ANSPs with aircraft position reports over oceanic and remote regions of the Earth, using new Iridium Next satellites equipped with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers. In November 2012, Nav Canada and Iridium signed a joint venture agreement giving Nav Canada a 51-percent interest in Aireon by late 2017, once it completes $150 million in tranche payments.

The three new ANSPs have agreed to invest in Aireon in four tranches between 2014 and 2017, as system developers meet key milestones. ENAV expects eventually to acquire a 12.5-percent interest in the company, while the Irish Aviation Authority and Naviair each hold a 6-percent interest. Under the terms of the deal, Iridium will retain 24.5-percent ownership. The latter company plans to launch the new satellites into low-earth orbit between 2015 and 2017, after which Aireon expects to start operations.

According to the announcement, the new ANSPs “are expected to become long-term customers of the Aireon data service and to participate in the global deployment and sales of Aireon’s space-based ADS-B offering.” Aireon added that it “fully expects to garner support” from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, now in the process of rolling out a terrestrial ADS-B network. Last June, the FAA and Nav Canada signed a “declaration of intent” to collaborate on the development and deployment of satellite-based ADS-B in their respective airspace. The International Air Transport Association, Air Canada, Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa have shown support, the company said, by participating in a “space-based ADS-B advisory committee” Aireon formed to guide the system development.

Aireon faces competition for its surveillance service. In October, the German Aerospace Center (DLR); SES TechCom, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES; and satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space Germany signed a long-term agreement to develop what they promise will become the first European space-based ADS-B surveillance system. The signing followed the May launch of the Belgian Proba V satellite, which is carrying a DLR-developed ADS-B receiver as a secondary payload. The European Space Agency has commissioned Thales Germany to develop the ADS-B system, “which is progressing on schedule,” the companies said.

In the U.S., ADS-B Technologies of Anchorage, Alaska, and satellite communications provider Globalstar of Covington, La., have partnered to develop the ADS-B Link Augmentation System (ALAS), which they describe as a “simple, economical and easily installed after-market enhancement” for tracking aircraft. The system will use Globalstar’s second-generation satellite constellation, which should be capable of covering most of the world’s busiest air routes by next year, the companies say.

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