NATS Paves Way for Space-based ADS-B with Aireon Stake

 - May 16, 2018, 12:10 PM

UK air traffic services provider NATS is taking a 10 percent equity stake in Aireon, the developer of a spaced-based ADS-B surveillance system, the organizations announced today. NATS, which is investing $69 million into Aireon, is laying plans for the introducing the technology over the North Atlantic with operational trials to begin in 2019, the UK service further noted.

The organization is consulting with customers on how best to deploy the technology, said NATS CEO Martin Rolfe. “The North Atlantic is the busiest area of oceanic airspace in the world and the gateway to Europe, but its routes have now reached their limit of capacity with existing technology.”

Using a network of 66 low earth orbiting Iridium Next satellites, the Aireon system will be able to globally monitor the location of ADS-B-equipped aircraft equipped with top-mounted antennas, including over oceans and remote regions such as the poles, deserts, and mountainous areas.

“This is a transformational technology that will deliver the world’s first truly global air traffic control infrastructure,” Rolfe said. “Investing in Aireon is the best way for us to shape the future of the service in a way that benefits our customers in the UK and elsewhere.”

Aireon CEO Don Thoma added that NATS was among the first to embrace the benefits of space-based ADS-B and “now it only makes sense that they would become a more formal part of Aireon. The enhancements Aireon’s space-based ADS-B service will allow in the North Atlantic are a game changer for the aviation industry and will connect North America and Europe unlike ever before.”

Currently, air traffic controllers receive about five position reports hourly from pilots flying over the Atlantic. Without real-time tracking technology, traffic must follow set speed and separation restrictions, NATS and Aireon noted. This limits capacity and involves flight paths that burn additional fuel and generate more emissions.

NATS conducted a joint analysis with Nav Canada, which also has a stake in Aireon, finding that the Aireon service could reduce the safety risk by 76 percent while meeting growth and flexibility need of flights over the North Atlantic.

NATS controllers handled 500,000 flights over the North Atlantic last year, a number that is expected to reach 800,000 by 2030. NATS and Aireon estimate that a more than a million metric tons of CO2 emissions could be eliminated each year by enabling operators to fly the most efficient routes and at the optimal speeds. The capability of monitoring aircraft real-time would support reducing traffic separations from 40 nm to 15 nm, they said.

“Adding NATS to our ownership group further confirms what the industry has largely already realized, that Aireon is on track to fundamentally improve flight safety worldwide,” said Marc Courtois, chairman for both Aireon and Nav Canada. “The technology is real, the system is already performing beyond expectations, there are just a few more launches to go, and we are eager to start seeing the improved benefits to the aviation industry and the flying public.”