Radars… the end is near. Hopefully.

On 12/09/2012, in The future is now, by steve

If you are a bird flying over Europe, finding yourself slowly being roasted by radars is not something unexpected. In an effort to achieve radar coverage that is at least double and in view of the fragmented nature of the air traffic management system, this effort has resulted in triple+ coverage in some places. This might be a heart-warming feeling for air traffic controllers and radar manufacturers but for the users of the ATM system, it is more of an expensive overkill than a good thing per se.

Luckily, the time of those expensive, clunky and not too accurate surveillance tools is coming to an end. The replacement? ADS-B.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast is a technology that has been with us for some time now and with the required standards in place, adoption is underway. ADS-B equipped aircraft broadcast their GPS (or other GNSS) derived position and certain other information about once a second. The broadcast information is then received by antennas on the ground and forwarded to air traffic control centers and other users. The data is processed into moving position symbols and labels that look just like traditional radar displays. An important difference is the rate of update. Currently only ground control radars work with such short update cycles, terminal and en-route radars typically provide a 10 second or more update period. Displays being fed by ADS-B data exhibit smooth movement and of course accurate and current information.

Building an ADS-B system, comprising the ground receivers, network and the equipment on board the aircraft is typically cheaper then creating the equivalent surveillance capability with conventional radars. ADS-B offers the added advantage of being deployable in circumstances where radars could never be placed. The antennas are modest in size and fit easily on existing structures, like oil drilling platforms for instance. This characteristic brings surveillance and the associated lower separation minima to areas not previously covered by radar.

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Garmin Leads the Way to ADS-B Future

On 20/07/2012, in NextGen, by steve

Garmin International Inc., a unit of Garmin Ltd., the global leader in satellite navigation, has announced a comprehensive suite of certified and portable ADS-B solutions, providing options for any aircraft owner to satisfy the U.S. NextGen mandate for ADS-B Out and also gain immediate access to the benefits of ADS-B In, including high-integrity traffic and subscription-free weather information.

“No matter what type of aircraft you fly, where you fly or what you’re looking to get out of ADS-B, Garmin has a solution to meet your needs,” said Carl Wolf, Garmin’s vice president of aviation sales and marketing. “NextGen represents a significant opportunity for pilots to fly with greater safety, efficiency, flexibility and situational awareness. Our solutions go further than meeting the minimum requirements for ADS-B. They offer a full range of traffic, weather and other datalink display capabilities to give pilots the most complete picture of their operational environment. Our full line up of ADS-B products, along with our comprehensive ADS-B Academy website, support Garmin’s commitment to making the ADS-B transition easy and affordable for all aircraft owners.”

Garmin unveils the industry’s first dual-link ADS-B solution for certified aircraft

Garmin has introduced the industry’s first dual-link ADS-B solution for certified aircraft, the GDL 88 series. The GDL 88 provides a simple, rule-compliant solution for aircraft operating in the U.S. and below 18,000 feet. The GDL 88 also brings the added benefit of access to advanced traffic information and subscription free weather for aircraft flying at any altitude. The innovative dual-link capability allows the GDL 88 to receive both the 978 MHz UAT and 1090 MHz frequency bands to provide the most comprehensive level of traffic situational awareness. Advanced traffic awareness features include TargetTrend™ relative motion technology, which helps the pilot visualize the trend of the traffic threats as it relates to their aircraft, and SURF technology, which detects other aircraft or ground vehicles on runways and taxiways that may pose a threat while taxiing or on approach.

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Surveillance – Rent, do not buy

On 09/07/2012, in ATC world, by steve

Ever since air traffic control was first invented, the idea that the organizations providing air traffic services must own and operate most of the facilities (communications, surveillance and so on) they require was part and parcel of their concept of existence. Air navigation service providers the world over were convinced, with some justification, that only by owning and operating their own radar stations would they be able to achieve the reliability expected of them.

Of course the rest of the world had in the meantime moved towards a service oriented model, where organizations leave the purchase and operation of expensive hardware to specialized outfits and they buy the required services from them, in most cases resulting in substantial cost savings.

In the air traffic management context the first cracks in the “own and operate” paradigm came when the complexity and requirements of communications reached a point where it was impossible to keep everything in ANSP hands. Telephone lines have always been the premise of the local postal authorities but with the ever increasing need for data communications added, the possibility to offer services was also opened up to private providers. It was soon evident that the quality of service required in air traffic management can be provided by communications companies serving also other industries. One of the obvious additional benefits of this outsourcing was of course that new communications technologies developed in non-aviation fields became automatically available also for aviation applications.

Surveillance, however, has lagged behind, apparently immune to the changes in the world. This is not surprising if we consider that the business of establishing the position of aircraft in flight (the main business of surveillance) is not a very reusable type of activity. Other than air traffic controllers, few people are interested in the information generated and hence no parallel industry has grown up to which ANSPs could outsource surveillance, even if they had a mind to do so.

But things are changing. The time for expensive and troublesome radars is fast coming to an end. This is true even if some ANSPs have just invested a fortune in new radars or are about to do so…

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An Opportunity We Should not Miss!

On 20/01/2012, in The future is now, by steve

I was talking to an old time, well respected colleague the other day discussing his view that instead of forcing the industry to implement yet another expensive capability, full use should be made of what was already there… Once the benefits start to accrue, airspace users would be much more inclined to take the extra steps and accept the costs associated with the extra functionality (assuming of course that there was a business case for it). This discussion was in the context of basic PBN and the addition or not of things like Constant Radius Turns in en-route airspace.

Although I have always preferred a more all-out approach, his pragmatic views make perfect sense and is also something airline bean-counters are likely to accept more readily. Investing in speculative functionality when the existing stuff sits idle most of the time is difficult to justify. Of course focusing mainly on use-what-is-already-there-first will not speed up progress but will make the simpler things happen with a higher degree of probability. Aim for too much, and nothing happens. I hate to admit it, but he is right…

Having given credit where credit is due, my incorrigible drive for wanting the whole thing kept chewing my soul. There was something here that we could turn to our advantage. But what was it exactly?

Then I remembered… The thousands of A320NEOs and Boeing 737MAXs. Airlines have ordered these more fuel efficient versions of the old favorites to basically replace a large part of their fleets almost overnight. Now if only those new babies could come with all kinds of goodies fitted right from the start…

What are we talking about? From an air traffic management perspective, there are three items that I would have on my wish list: air/ground digital link and CPDLC, ADS-B in and out and a full set of PBN capabilities.

I can almost hear opponents shouting: with those new versions not due for another three years or so, what technology should the manufacturers use for ADS-B for instance? Stay with Mode S Extended Squitter or go for something else? But what? Would it not be better to wait until the technology debate settles? We have of course heard this in the past. Waiting is equivalent to doing nothing and missing the boat. We have also seen that in the past… and suffer the consequences in the present day.

No Sire, this time we should be smarter.

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Old habits that refuse to die

On 29/11/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Things like the Single European Sky (SES), SESAR, even the FABs were supposed to bring a fresh air to European ATM, dispensing once and for all with bad habits and procedures that kept making life for airspace users unnecessarily hard and expensive.

Among those old habits, the persistent mismatch between mandates to equip aircraft and adding the capability concerned to ANSPs was one of the most striking and expensive. What did this mean? The industry, sometimes all on its own but more often after “gentle persuasion” by the service providers “agreed” that a new piece of kit had to be bolted on the airplanes and a date was set by which time the new kit had to be operational. There was never a mandate for the ground to also equip, this happened in a haphazard way if it happened at all and often aircraft flew around for years with totally useless boxes on board that had cost a fortune to install with no benefit at all (just think of Mode S enhanced surveillance if you want an example).

One would think that under SES and its Implementing Rules (IR) this kind of mismatch is a thing of the past. Fat chance.

A few days ago two new SES IRs were published in the EU Official Journal.

Regulation No 1206/2011 prescribes that air navigation service providers must make use of the aircraft identification down-linked via Mode S by the second of January of the year 2020. This is a cool 17 years after the corresponding airborne retrofit date which was in 2003. Oooops….

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Enhanced Surveillance of Aircraft and Vehicles – 2011 (ESAV ’11)

On 11/07/2011, in Events, by steve

Island of Capri, Italy 12-14 September 2011

Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems and airport systems are rapidly evolving to meet increased efficiency, safety, security, environmental and business demands. A deep evolution with radical changes of the current Air Traffic Management System is going on both in Europe, with the SESAR program, and in the USA (Nex Gen program). New architectures are needed for modern control and traffic management systems in air and in ground operations, as well as for service vehicles on the airport surface. The related Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) infrastructures permit enhanced positioning and identification means such as Multilateration (MLAT) and Wide Area MLAT (WAM), automatic dependent surveillance (ADS-B) and automatic vehicles location and management. Radar techniques, including the novel Passive Coherent Location, and Multistatic techniques, still pre-operational or in research phase, permit detection and location of non-cooperating aircraft. Most of these enhanced surveillance means are both spatially and logically distributed.

In this frame, new system architectures and new algorithms for integrity monitoring and for multi-sensor data fusion are required. Security and defense systems use similar algorithms for passive location of targets based on measurements of Time, Doppler frequency, angle/direction.

Following the successful Symposia ESAVS 2007 in Bonn/Germany, ESAV’08 in Capri/Italy and ESAVS 2010 in Berlin/Germany, ESAV’11 is dedicated to provide up-to-date information to researchers, operational experts and decision makers in the world of sensors and systems development, tracking, sensor data fusion, avionics and airport operations as well as of the pertaining air traffic control procedures.

You can find the ESAV web-site here. Click here to get the printable announcement.


Big brother in the sky

On 18/05/2011, in Satellite Navigation, by steve

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) is only now starting to make inroads as a surveillance means more accurate and cost-effective than traditional radar. With the ground infrastructure slowly being built, someone has already come up with a new idea: why not put the ADS-B receivers on satellites and start a surveillance service that covers every nook and cranny of the planet, oceans and the deepest mountain valleys included, and sell the service to Air Navigation Service Providers? Whether as a second layer of surveillance or as the primary one, the satellite based solution promises to be much cheaper in deployment and cost of usage than the already not too expensive ground ADS-B network.

This is a very innovative and absolutely market oriented approach that is of course not without some risk. That surveillance data is essential is not in question. Whether ANSPs will be ready to relinquish their hold on the surveillance infrastructure and go for a more efficient and cheaper solution that is as good as or better than the existing heavy iron is the big question of course.

In any case, Iridium thinks the risk is worth taking. These are the same folks whose first attempt at bringing us satellite telephones was a flop but who have risen from the ashes offering more interesting and viable solutions.

Of course the idea is logical and the timing is good. With both Europe and the USA heading towards all aircraft being equipped with ADS-B, broadcasting their GPS derived position and other information for everyone who cares to listen to hear, a system not limited by geography or topography to pick up and forward the broadcast information makes perfect sense, especially if the cost of its deployment and operation is comparable or less than that of a ground based ADS-B network.

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FAA Funds ADS-B for JetBlue

On 04/02/2011, in NextGen, by steve

Low-cost carriers are not known for their willingness to pay for extra equipment that may be required to improve air traffic management. In this respect they are very much similar to their legacy brethren… Even when there is a clear business case, the mad rush to equip is usually conspicuous by its absence. There are exceptions to rule though. Southwest had announced earlier that it will equip all its fleet with RNP capability and the news is out now that US low-cost carrier JetBlue is equipping 35 of its Airbus A-320 aircraft with ADS-B Out capability, including the ACSS SafeRoute suite of applications. The catch? This is a demo project funded by the FAA to the tune of 4.2 million dollars.

Once equipped, JetBlue’s aircraft will be able to fly more precise trajectories under ADS-B surveillance from Boston and New York to Florida and the Caribbean although this latter will have to wait until 2012 as there is no ground ADS-B infrastructure there just yet.

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The Story of Alpha Mike (Part 2)

On 04/02/2011, in Women in ATC, by arminda

The Road to Becoming an En-route Air Traffic Controller

To continue with my story, let me just go back to that time when, in 1981, I received an Order transferring me to the Manila Area Control Center (ACC), eight years after I graduated from an air traffic control training course. The ATC staffing crisis – brought about by the exodus of ATCs to the Middle East for better pay – had given way to my dream of working as an air traffic controller; this time, the ATC units are more welcoming when it comes to accepting women in the workforce. I began my certification or rating process only a few weeks after I reported for work, it seemed that there was a rush to put ATCs into jobs that require years of training.

Arminda with the first Manila radar

Back then, the Manila ACC had no radar systems yet; separation of aircraft was done using procedural or conventional control – where ATC’s main tools in controlling traffic were just paper strips mounted on plastic strip holders, a ball pen, and a radio transceiver. The flight progress strips, as they’re called have all the information ATCs need – aircraft call-sign, type of aircraft, airspeed, route to be flown, and altitude, among others (all handwritten); color of strips depends on the direction of flight – white strips for eastbound, buff or yellow for westbound traffic. You don’t have to have a high IQ to get this job done; it’s more of imagination and guts you need. Imagination in this case means being able to make a picture in your mind of what’s going on up there as you look at those information on paper strips with a map or chart already ingrained in your mind, as if seeing aircraft moving across the skies; and have the guts, as you separate aircraft from each other though not actually seeing them; then, based on this mental picture you either climb or descend aircraft converging or on opposite direction – with no doubt in your mind that they had indeed passed each other after you clear one through the altitude of the other; that your mental calculations were correct when you make split second decisions.

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New clouds on the Mode-S/ADS-B horizon in Europe

On 18/01/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Most of those who took part in the epic battle over the introduction of Mode S Enhanced Surveillance (EHS) have either retired, moved to other activities or flew west to greener pastures but I guess there is still a hard core who will remember how the airspace users lost that one to the three big States in Europe and EUROCONTROL who was caught between a rock and a hard place… I was one of those doing the shouting, telling anyone who would listen that Mode S Enhanced Surveillance would cost the airlines an arm and a leg and would generate next to zero benefits. The majority of the airlines and some ANSPs agreed… This was back at the beginning of the previous decade and in the end, the three promoters of Mode S EHS, fed up with the indecision of the others and the opposition of the airlines, banded together and set up the Three State Program, in effect deciding that they would put in Mode S EHS regardless of the opposition. They did have the grace to announce clear time-frames (2003) to have everything on the ground ready and the benefits accruing for the airspace users. We are now in 2011 and very little of that grand promise has been realized, certainly if we look at things from the benefit point of view. If anyone out there has news about Mode S Enhanced Surveillance quantifiable benefits being available to anyone, please let us know…

But the story continues except that the stakes are even higher. This time the matter is on the level of the European Commission and its Single European Sky Implementing Rules (SES IR). Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the Commission wanting the jump start SES via implementing rules. On the contrary, this is a good thing. Except that the old specter of Mode S implementation is beckoning again in the Surveillance Performance and Interoperability IR.

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