ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

SITA OnAir Flight Tracking Technology Enters the American Market

By Juliet Van Wagenen | August 21, 2015
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[Avionics Today 08-20-2015] The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is preparing to finalize its recommendations for 15-minute aircraft flight tracking standard, which is focused on providing performance-based rather than prescriptive measures for operators. SITA OnAir’s Aircom FlightTracker technology has been introduced as a solution that is looking to help airlines meet the proposed tracking guidelines without breaking the bank through significant aircraft modifications.

SITA OnAir’s Flight Tracker system uses multiple data sources to comply with upcoming ICAO recommendations for aircraft tracking
SITA OnAir’s Flight Tracker system uses multiple data sources to comply with upcoming ICAO recommendations for aircraft tracking. Photo: SITA

“I think [International Air Transportation Association] IATA and ICAO are hesitant to require aircraft carriers and manufacturers to spend a lot of money in the cockpit on avionics to equip for the upcoming aircraft tracking recommendations,” SITA OnAir Commercial Director for the Americas, Larry Thomas, told Avionics Magazine. “Any kind of method that effectively provides aircraft tracking in another way will be of interest to industry.”

At the High Level Safety Conference in February, ICAO member states recommended a standard for commercial airlines in which aircraft flying in remote areas not covered by air traffic radar surveillance are required to report their position every 15 minutes. To comply with this standard, airlines can use existing communications technologies already onboard the majority of the aircraft they operate today, such as the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) datalink, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), and the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C) application of the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) that airlines use for oceanic ATC communications..

SITA OnAir’s Aircom Flight Tracker combines these multiple data sources as well as air traffic control radar data, terrestrial and satellite feeds, and an airline’s flight plans in order to provide real-time aircraft position monitoring over remote and oceanic regions.

“By adding ADS-B, ADS-C, FANS, ACARS position reporting and with air traffic control, the system gives you a much clearer, precise picture of where the aircraft actually is. That helps you not only with the location of the aircraft and the ability to know where it is at any time, but it also helps an operator to manage flight paths for efficiencies and weather avoidance,” explained Thomas.

The system works by using the ACARS as the transportation medium for aircraft messaging and expands on ADS-C reporting capabilities, which are traditionally in the hands of air traffic control who can set up the reporting contract to alert them if an aircraft deviates in altitude, vertical speed, or several other different parameters. In the case of Flight Tracker, airlines can also access the ADS-C reporting information to set up parameters of their own if an aircraft deviates from the pre-determined flight path.

“This doesn’t require any kind of additional avionics in the cockpit at all. If you’re flying long-haul flights, you’re already typically flying FANS-equipped aircraft,” said Thomas, indicating that most of the necessary avionics should already be installed to equip for this solution. “If you’re flying just in the United States then FANS may not be a necessity and you probably don’t need this precision of reporting. If you’re flying across the oceans or you’re flying across the Brazilian jungles, this is a different matter.”

Several airlines in Europe and Asia are showing interest in the technology, most notably Malaysia Airlines, whose notorious MH370 aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar in March 2014, launching many of the international initiatives surrounding flight tracking.

“The initial reaction was in Asia Pacific as you can imagine. We’ve seen a lot of activity and interest there as well as some interest in Europe. We’re seeing the beginnings of interest in South America now. We’ve got two or three airlines that we’re in discussions with presently,” said Thomas.

Most recently, the tracking system has made headway in the Americas with Brazil’s Low Cost Carrier (LCC) Azul, who activated the service on Aug. 1. As the carrier was already equipped with SITA OnAir’s Aircom technology, enabling FlightTracker involved only a simple software upgrade to the ground-based server. The airline, which operates a fleet of 130 aircraft, including Embraer 190s and 195s, ATR 72-600s and Airbus A330s, has equipped more than 70 aircraft so far and is on its way to 100 percent fleet coverage.

As the adoption of flight tracking technology begins to swell, it is likely new solutions will arise as well that will work to enhance aircraft safety and flight planning in a host of new ways.

“In five years you will not see an operational center of an airline without flight tracking capabilities. All of them will have a source of aircraft tracking and a way to meet the IATA and ICAO recommendation,” said Carlos Vianna, senior business development manager of South America at SITA OnAir. “We’re going to see an adoption of flight tracking by the industry — that’s a given. I think in that time more and more sophisticated systems will emerge. It’s just a growth model.”

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