ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

FlightAware Targets Remote Markets to Expand Global Flight Tracking Innovation

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | May 22, 2015
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[Avionics Today 05-22-2015] FlightAware is continuing to expand the capabilities of its global flight tracking and flight data technology, launching a new network for tracking non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft at the 2015 European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva. Beyond the new product launch though, the Texas-based flight tracking company is also looking to expand its flight tracking service to more remote areas of the world to provide airlines and operators with all of the possible surveillance data available that can help prevent the loss of an aircraft position.
FlightAware Worldwide Ground Station (ADS-B/Mode S) Coverage Map. Photo: FlightAware.
Avionics Magazine caught up with FlightAware Business Development Manager Max Tribolet during EBACE to discuss the company’s new Multilateration (MLAT) Mode S network and its continued global expansion in 2015 and beyond. He highlighted the Middle East, in particular as a big focus area for the company. “Particularly the Persian Gulf with the three major operators there: Emirates, Qatar and Etihad; there’s a lot of flight traffic in that area. East Asia is also another focus area for us right now,” Tribolet said. “Notably, it’s an important area because it has high ADS-B equipage and the operators in this area are adding/buying new aircraft at a tremendous rate, among the fastest in the world.”
As the global aviation industry continues its efforts to try to prevent another MH370-type incident from ever happening again, FlightAware’s worldwide ground station network serves a unique purpose. By fusing data from Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems in more than 50 countries combined with its own ground station receivers and VHF/satcom ACARS data link networks, it gives operators and airlines the ability to effectively build their own individual flight tracking scheme based on the routes and areas of the world that they fly in.
“We want to give operators, from the small and mid-sized business aviation companies all the way up to large airlines, the ability to fuse data from Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems with our ground station network so that their aircraft position tracking is updated as much as possible,” said Tribolet.
At EBACE 2015, FlightAware launched its new MLAT network to offer live flight tracking positions of non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft. The purpose of bringing this to one of the world’s largest business aviation networking events was to address the current reality that a high number of business jets still are not equipped with certified ADS-B avionics. According to a presentation on ADS-B given by ACSS Director of Product Marketing Arnold Oldach during the recent Avionics Maintenance Conference | Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) general session, an estimated 12,928 business jets still need to be retrofitted with ADS-B transponders.
Enter MLAT. When a non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft comes within the line of sight of three or more FlightAware receivers, MLAT’s Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) is used to calculate the position of the aircraft to provide real time flight position reporting, even where radar data is not available to FlightAware. 
“I think its really going to open up a huge market with us. Previously, operators with Mode S transponders never really had a live position in Europe from FlightAware, unless they were VHF/satcom ACARS data link equipped or were operating in UK airspace where we receive ANSP radar,” said Tribolet. “We receive their flight plans and arrival and departure messages as well as updated [Estimated Time of Arrivals] ETAs from Eurocontrol, but we never really knew where they were en route, we could only estimate their position. Now we have a live look into where exactly they’re.”
Interestingly enough, at the same time, MLAT has been introduced with a primary focus on the business aviation community: FlightAware’s service is also part of a solution that Malaysia Airlines will start using this summer to increase its own flight tracking capability. Announced in April at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, Malaysia is the first carrier that will implement SITA ONAir’s AIRCOM FlightTracker. According to SITA OnAir, AIRCOM uses multiple sources of data that guarantee tracking intervals of at least every 15 minutes for every flight for an airline’s flight dispatch team. The technology also enables airlines to proactively obtain Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) tracking data immediately when it detects a gap in data from other sources. 
SITA OnAir describes it as an extra software layer on top of its existing AIRCOM Server Aircraft Communications and Addressing Reporting System (ACARS) message handling system, which is currently used globally by 90 different airlines. 
“When the aircraft is within our ADS-B coverage they turn off the SITA ACARS and when it’s outside of our ADS-B coverage they turn ACARS back on with high frequency position reporting. So the net effect is more position reporting but the cost is the same,” said Tribolet. “They have an algorithm that basically sends the same amount of position reports but intelligently turns it off when you’re inside of our ADS-B coverage.”

Going forward, FlightAware is looking to continue to expand its surveillance coverage to more remote areas of the world, especially those that lack the type of advanced ATC infrastructure featured in U.S., Canadian and European airspace, among others. “Generally, we’re focused on the areas where we don’t have [Air Navigation Service Provider] ANSP data and have a high density of flight traffic,” said Tribolet. 

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