Aireon Will Close Gaps in Canada's Wide ADS-B Coverage

 - July 2, 2012, 10:00 AM
An air traffic controller at Nav Canada's Gander area control center monitors flights over the North Atlantic. (Photo: Nav Canada)

The recently announced Aireon joint venture to provide aircraft position reports from Iridium satellites equipped with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers will help close gaps in the already extensive ADS-B coverage provided by Nav Canada, an Aireon partner.

Aireon plans to begin streaming ADS-B messages to air navigation service providers (Ansps) for a fee in 2017, once the Iridium Next constellation of 66 low-Earth-orbit satellites is launched and operating. By that time, Nav Canada will have tracked aircraft using ground-based ADS-B for eight years. The private non-share corporation, which owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation service, started ADS-B tracking over the Hudson Bay in January 2009. In May of this year, controllers at the Montreal and Edmonton area control centers (ACCs) handled 3,600 flights over the bay, 61 percent of which involved aircraft equipped for ADS-B and certified by regulatory agency Transport Canada to use the system. According to Nav Canada, more than 1,000 aircraft from 30 airlines are ADS-B equipped and certified in Canada.

Nav Canada reports that ADS-B surveillance now covers 1.5 million square miles of airspace over the country. Fifteen ground stations with Saab Sensis ADS-B transceivers have been installed in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, the federal territory of Nunavut and Greenland to support ADS-B coverage in domestic and international airspace. The system’s third and latest expansion—four ground stations in Greenland providing coverage over the North Atlantic—started operating in March. For the first time, controllers at the Gander ACC applied 10-nm aircraft separations in oceanic airspace using ADS-B surveillance, as opposed to 80-nm procedural separations, said Nav Canada spokesman Ron Singer. That should be reduced to five nautical miles by the end of the year, he said.

On June 19, Nav Canada and Iridium Communications announced an agreement-in-principle to form Aireon. Harris Corp. will supply the ADS-B receiver payloads, which will receive 1090 Extended Squitter transmissions from aircraft and stream the information to Aireon’s ground segment for provision to Ansps. ITT Exelis, which is building the ADS-B ground-based network in the U.S., is assisting with systems engineering and technical architecture definition. The ADS-B function will account for the majority of hosted payload space on the new Iridium satellites built by Thales Alenia Space, said Iridium CEO Matthew Desch.

The Aireon system is expected to augment ground-based ADS-B networks by providing surveillance coverage in oceanic and remote airspace and the polar regions. As a joint-venture partner, Nav Canada will be both Aireon’s first customer and a supplier to other Ansps. John Crichton, Nav Canada president and CEO, said Aireon is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for his organization. “In addition to the North Atlantic, we also manage traffic throughout the remote northern regions of Canada and the Arctic Ocean, so innovation delivered through Aireon is a big deal for us,” he said.