ICAO headquarters. Photo courtesy of ICAO
The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) amended aircraft tracking standards, a response to the still-unresolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370, become applicable Nov. 8. The standards are the first of two phases of international airworthiness recommendations that will make ICAO’s Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) a reality.
ICAO first adopted Amendment 39 to Annex 6 of its normal aircraft tracking standards and recommended practices (SARPs) in November 2015. The SARPs require operators to track aircraft operating under normal flight conditions every 15 minutes with an optional abnormal-event tracking capability. Most major airlines and business aviation operators are already able to meet these requirements and are awaiting further industry and regulatory guidance to meet the second phase of GADSS provisions that are still being technologically defined by ICAO.
Those future requirements begin Jan. 1, 2021, and include a provision for new production airframes to be equipped with the ability to produce position reports once per minute when under abnormal flight conditions, independent of aircraft power and not isolatable. This tracking requirement must be capable of being activated remotely.
ICAO’s other 2021 requirement is for new aircraft type designs to feature timely recovery of flight data, which could potentially occur in the form of automatic deployable flight recorders, or flight-data streaming. The ARINC Industry Activities global aircraft tracking working group is preparing standards that will further define the avionics capable of providing the type of tracking being sought by ICAO in its 2021 requirements.
While the amendments officially become part of ICAO’s guidance, they’re not necessarily the same as an airspace mandate implemented by a civil aviation regulatory agency. Only individual civil aviation agencies with regulatory authority over their respective flight information regions (FIRs) — such as the FAA in the United States or the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia — can enact such mandates.
Many civil aviation regulatory agencies across the globe, including those in China, Europe, Malaysia and Singapore have already issued mandates and published policy guidance documents for operators registered in their respective airspace around the 2018 provisions. As an example, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) published a new operations circular in October explaining the Nov. 8 provisions to operators registered there.
“DGCA has implemented these SARPs by incorporating them in CAR Section 8 Series O Part II,” the circular said.
The world’s largest civil aviation regulator, the FAA, has not published any such guidance. A request for comments from the FAA on the Nov. 8 applicability of ICAO’s aircraft tracking SARPs was not returned. ICAO does, however, identify the United States as one of the “states of chief importance in air transport” among its 36-member governing council.
Airlines have been preparing to ensure they can meet the two phases of the ICAO GADSS provisions since they were first announced in 2016. Korean Air is installing Avionica’s satLINK MAX Iridium satellite communications system to comply with the positioning requirements established by the Korean Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA). Malaysia Airlines is also taking strides to avoid a future MH370 by adopting SITAONAIR’s Aircom Flight Tracker, a ground-based software system capable of gathering data from nearly every available air traffic surveillance source and medium including ADS-B, ACARS, ATC radar and FANS for the airline.
Qatar Airways is the launch customer for the GlobalBeacon flight-tracking solution produced through a partnership between Aireon and FlightAware. The Middle Eastern carrier is integrating GlobalBeacon into its existing total operations system ICAO GADSS compliant surveillance technology.
Icelandair was recently announced by FlightAware as a new customer for its Firehose Application Programming Interface (API). Firehose provides secure transmission control protocol (TCP)-based streaming flight positions and flight status data via a combination of worldwide air traffic control data, ADS-B, Mode S Multilateration (MLAT) and aircraft datalink information.
“FlightAware is already delivering Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data to nearly 2,000 aircraft around the world. In addition to GlobalBeacon, airlines and other aircraft operators are integrating the global, real-time dataset through our Firehose API and through FlightAware partners like SITAONAIR and Rockwell Collins,” Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware told Avionics International.
The global aspect of GlobalBeacon is already a reality prior to Aireon’s space-based ADS-B network becoming fully operational. Aireon plans to complete testing and validation of space-based ADS-B after the final launch of the Iridium NEXT constellation, which is scheduled to occur Dec. 30. Space-based ADS-B is a payload on NEXT satellites.
Aireon CEO Don Thoma said that GlobalBeacon goes above and beyond the Nov. 8 and Jan. 1, 2021, requirements from ICAO.
“GlobalBeacon provides updates of at least once a minute now, allowing aircraft operators to not have to wait until 2021 to meet those requirements. The other component of the Jan. 1, 2021, recommendation is that the tracking component be operated through an independent source of electricity from the rest of the cockpit. ICAO is still working on the details for this component, but ADS-B looks like the most practical approach for this,” said Thoma.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Qatar Airways' adoption of Globalbeacon only, not Firehose. Additionally, Globalbeacon is already "live and global" in terms of its surveillance capabilities, according to FlightAware.