Here at the Singapore Airshow site an interesting phenomenon is taking place invisibly in the sky above our heads. The latest iteration of French manufacturer Thales’ (Booth F23) Long Range Radar and Display System (Lorads III) is now fully operational, marking a new era for air traffic management in Singapore.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) took delivery of the system in June 2013, which is now fully operational following a successful phased deployment program.
According to Thales, Lorads III (which is based on Thales TopSky-ATC) marks “a generational shift” in air traffic management, allowing “seamless integration between area, approach and tower, while its high level of automation and modern software help in using the busy airspace efficiently and minimise aircraft fuel consumption through optimised air traffic trajectories.”
The OEM already provides ATM systems to Taiwan and Australia, and says that the Singaporean system “will play a critical role in enabling the CAAS to manage significant future air traffic growth in a safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly way.”
Country director for Lorads III in Singapore Jean Noel Stock said that Changi Airport comes close to London Heathrow in terms of aircraft movements, and that traffic will grow by “at least 50 percent” over the next ten years. “There is a fifth terminal under construction, as well as an additional runway. This is extremely demanding in terms of aircraft flow,” added Stock There are also unexpected factors to add in to the equation, such as poor weather or delayed takeoff slots at the start of an incoming aircraft’s journey.
Lorads III integrates state-of-the-art multi-sensor tracking technology, capable of fusing data from multiple surveillance sources. In particular it uses Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), where an aircraft determines its own position via the global navigation satellite system and periodically broadcasts this via a radio frequency. It also uses Wide Area Multilateration (WAML), an independent, cooperative surveillance technology based on the same time-difference of arrival principles used on an airport surface. Several ground-receiving stations listen to signals transmitted from an aircraft and then mathematically calculate its position in three dimensions. This data is then transmitted to screens viewed by air traffic controllers. It can interface to terminal or en-route automation systems and ground sensors with “multi-hypothesis” filtering. This gives controllers a holistic and highly accurate picture of the operating environment. Lorads III also offers ADS-C surveillance capability for remote and oceanic areas.
A key component of the system is Thales’ Java Human Machine Interface engine–an advanced display designed in collaboration with air traffic controllers. The high performance configurable software reduces controllers’ workload through new ways of viewing, organizing and interacting with flight information. The OEM calls this the “centerpiece” of the system. Stock said, “It is very user-friendly and intuitive for air traffic controllers. They have a real-time understanding of any situation.” He pointed out that because Thales is active in so many sectors of aerospace, the firm is accustomed to working with governments and end-users across many disciplines, which gives it a strong understanding of requirements for both air crew and air traffic controllers. “We have thousands of hours of work shopping with pilots and air traffic controllers across the world, and have lots of feedback from end-users.”
Another key feature is Thales’ latest method of using geometry in its flight data processing to manage gate-to-gate flight trajectories in 4D, based on aircraft performance. Stock added, “We are reducing distance in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time. We use the airborne technologies, such as radar, transponders, ADS-B and WAML, along with the ground sensors to allow perfect positioning of each aircraft. This allows us to reduce the distance between them, while maintaining reliability and safety. If a pilot needs to make a last minute decision we can provide a very accurate picture of where each aircraft is.”
This will be crucial for Singapore, as it is the busiest air traffic hub in South East Asia, with more than 300,000 movements and 50 million passengers per year. It is also at a strategic geographic junction, making its skies among the busiest in the world for long-range air traffic en-route to hundreds of destinations. Stock explained: “When you have active runways in parallel, you want to land as many aircraft as is safely practical, while avoiding wake vortices. He said that further optimization is possible by adding next-generation air sensors to measure wake vortices in real time, to assess what their impact is. Singapore also has a rainy season, so wet runways are another factor to take into consideration, for example when estimating braking distances required.
Thales is also working with the developers of the Single European Sky program in Europe (and NextGen in the U.S.) to look at the increase in air traffic density coming online. There will more than likely be an Asian counterpart, given the huge volumes of aircraft coming online in the ASEAN region.
A second phase of the program will see the addition of advanced new capabilities and enhanced functionalities, which will be deployed by the end of 2016.