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New Zealand, Aireon to Evaluate ADS-B for Oceanic Coverage

By Juliet Van Wagenen | June 19, 2015
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[Avionics Today 06-19-2015] Airways New Zealand, the country’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), keen on bringing satellite-based aircraft tracking to the island nation’s remote oceanic airspace has begun evaluating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) options alongside Aireon. While a deal isn’t in place yet, the two have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to investigate, collaborate and potentially deploy space-based aircraft tracking in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Airways New Zealand air traffic control tower
Airways New Zealand air traffic control tower. Photo: Airways New Zealand

The ANSP currently has a program in place to replace current radar tracking with ADS-B in accordance with international standards. Alongside such an initiative, “it seems very sensible for Airways to be looking at ways that can help cover our domestic, land-based services, with not putting so many ground stations in and using a feed from a satellite-based station instead, which we hope would be cheaper, and give us better coverage,” explained Airways New Zealand's Chief Operating Officer Pauline Lamb.

The satellite surveillance could help to introduce real-time aircraft tracking over the New Zealand Domestic Flight Information Region (FIR), but more importantly could provide coverage in the vast oceanic areas that make up the Auckland FIR under Airways control.

“We look after a huge bit of oceanic airspace, remote areas that have no surveillance cover, so we can’t actually see the airplanes in that bit of airspace on a day-to-day basis,” said Lamb. Once the aircraft leave the area of radar coverage, they self-report position information every 14 minutes to the ANSP, but “in between those 14 minutes, as soon as they go out of radar coverage, rely on them flying the route they are clear on and our equipment predicting where they will be,” Lamb added.

A satellite-based ADS-B feed would allow the ANSP to view the aircraft’s location at a rate closer to every 30 seconds, allowing Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) to track the aircraft more easily. “Currently we separate aircraft between 30 and 60 miles separation when we can’t see them, this safety allows for a degree of uncertainty, there’s room for errors. As soon as you can see them you can take that separation down to 10 miles,” said Lamb.

This could enhance both safety and efficiency for aircraft travelling in New Zealand airspace, according to Lamb.

“If we’re able to get more accurate positions of aircraft over these remote areas we can certainly give them far easier routings and more efficient and direct routings,” she said

While the country controls more than 30 million kilometers of airspace with over one million aircraft moving within that space annually—a portion of which connects to the FAA’s Pacific airspace—Lamb admits that New Zealand’s FIRs aren’t exactly crowded. This is something that poses a problem when it comes to making the space-based ADS-B a viable and affordable solution.

“The difficulty for us is our airspace isn’t that busy, and already most flights get a direct flight profile. So, the difficulty I have for building a business case for space-based ADS-B is, actually, how much efficiency can be achieved compared to what we do today in New Zealand if there’s not that much difference?” Lamb asked.

The country has seen a slight upturn in traffic however, with an increase of 1.2 percent in domestic traffic and a more substantial increase of 4.5 percent in international traffic. “And it’s that increase in traffic internationally that would benefit from this technology,” said Lamb.

Lamb was also careful to note that Aireon isn’t the only player in this market either. Companies such as Thales Alenia and small sat company GomSpace also have solutions in the pipelines that could deliver something similar at a lower cost. ADS-B Technologies and Globalstar also are continuing to demonstrate the performance of their space-based ADS-B onboard hardware and satellite network.

Should Airways stick with Aireon’s solution, however, they can expect service to launch within two years following the satellite company’s launch of the Iridium Next satellite slated for sometime this year.

“Aireon will launch its constellation between 2015 and 2017. By the end of 2017, Airways New Zealand will be able to receive an accurate position report in real-time from aircraft, in their airspace without installing ground-based infrastructure,” Cyriel Kronenburg, vice president of sales and marketing at Aireon told Avionics Magazine. “The ADS-B signals will be received and processed by Aireon and transmitted to the automation platform of the ANSP. We anticipate it will be a quite simple process.”

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