[Avionics Today 02-20-2015] Under a new agreement, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) will manage Aireon’s global emergency aircraft tracking service, Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT). The service will be provided as a public service to the global aviation community beginning in 2017, when Aireon's space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B)
network becomes operational.
Concept of operations under Aireon's space-based ADS-B network. Photo: Aireon.
ALERT will give search and rescue agencies, Air Traffic Control (ATC) providers, and airlines the ability to request the location and last flight track of any 1090 ADS-B equipped aircraft they might have lost communications with. Historical track data will be available to pre-authorized users, and the system can also provide real-time tracking of aircraft in distress. This capability will be leveraged through Aireon's space-based ADS-B network, which uses the Iridium Next constellation of 66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to provide global surveillance of 1090 transponder equipped aircraft.
"The basic premise of the ALERT service is to create a way of locating distressed or lost aircraft," Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon told Avionics Magazine. "The means that we’ve coordinated with the proper regulatory authorities. We have ways of authenticating and registering the recipients of this information and the infrastructure in place so that if a controller or an operating center lost communications with their aircraft, they could contact our emergency response center and be able to get the information on the last location of that aircraft and the last flight path, and get it in a timely manner and not have to worry about what are the proper privacy and authentication issues. We decided to create this alert service and we needed a response center that would have the 24/7 capability, the right information in databases, the understanding of the specific search and rescue organizations and ICAO annex guidelines on search and rescue activities. The Irish Aviation Authority has a facility like that."
Aireon chose IAA's North Atlantic Communications center located in Ballygirren, which provides High Frequency (HF) communications services within the Shanwick oceanic flight operations region, according to Eamonn Brennan, chief executive of IAA.
"I don’t think Aireon could have picked a better place in terms of aviation history, as the region is steeped in it having played a crucial role in air navigation services all the way back to the 1930’s and the era of the commercial flying boats," Brennan told Avionics Magazine. "On any given day NAC handles communications with approximately 1,500 in both a westbound and eastbound direction within the busiest oceanic airspace in the world (NAC handled over 420,000 flights in 2014 and expects that to increase further in 2015). The facility works closely with U.K. NATS at Prestwick ACC, who provides ATC services within this airspace, relaying communications through our Ballygirreen center. Together, we handle over 90 percent of all North Atlantic traffic."
Thoma said that the IAA agreement is effectively the launching of the ALERT service; it is the primary agreement that will establish the emergency aircraft tracking capability that the technology provides. Between now and 2017Aireon will focus on manufacturing the space-based ADS-B receivers that will go onboard each of the Iridium NEXT satellites. These spacecraft will be part of the global network providing surveillance of remote and oceanic regions that currently rely on aging radar-based surveillance technology.
Over the next two years, Aireon will be discussing the regulatory and operational issues associated with providing the ALERT service capability to authorized airlines, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and civil aviation regulatory authorities. During that phase, the ALERT capability will also be flight tested and validated to ensure functionality when the space-based ADS-B network becomes operational.
Both Thoma and Brennan see ALERT and space-based surveillance as a "quantum leap" in ATC capabilities that takes existing technologies being deployed, groups them together and takes them to the next level.
"ADS-B exists, towers exist, receivers exist to receiver those, aircraft will be equipped with ADS-B transponders by 2020 when the mandate comes into play. Satellite technology exists, Iridium has been around for over 15 years in service and in operation, satellite technology is proven," said Thoma. "What we’ve done is combine all of them together to provide a global surveillance capability. The leap here is that you’re applying NextGen quality state of the art surveillance technology across the globe in a very cost-effective way."