ATM Modernization

How Space-based ADS-B Will Change ATC for NATS UK in the North Atlantic

The new digital tower control room at NATS Swanwick control center for London City Airport is due to enter full operations service in 2019. Photo: NATS UK

In May 2018, NATS, the air navigation service provider for the U.K., made a $69 million investment in Aerion’s space-based ADS-B network and a 10% equity stake in the global air traffic surveillance company. Now that Aireon has formally received control of the final six ADS-B payloads from Iridium, it’s time to begin live operational trials of the new technology, which has been generating aircraft position reports since 2017.

Avionics International recently caught up with Juliet Kennedy, operations director for NATS, to learn how the ANSP sees space-based ADS-B as a game changer for managing traffic in the busy North Atlantic airspace.


How do you see space-based ADS-B changing the way NATS manages air traffic in the North Atlantic airspace? 

The introduction of space based ADS-B over North Atlantic is a transformational moment for aviation – providing near real-time surveillance for the first time in history – and will totally transform how we manage air traffic. It will make flying safer, cleaner and more fuel efficient, allowing us to offer the capacity and service improvement our customers want.


What happens now that Aireon has taken full control of all space-based ADS-B payloads?

Now that the final Iridium satellite carrying the Aireon payload is successfully in place, we are working hand-in-hand with NAV CANADA and Aireon on systems and data validation in order to begin trials at the end of March, with full operational service planned for November 2020.


Space-based ADS-B has the potential to reduce required aircraft separation standards for airplanes flying between North America and Europe, how will that happen?

Today, aircraft flying across the Atlantic have to follow prescribed routes at set speeds and heights because we only receive position reports from them every 14 minutes. As a result, separation standards have to be far greater than over terrestrial airspace, with at least 30 nautical miles separating aircraft laterally and 40 nautical miles longitudinally. This in turn reduces the available space for aircraft to fly the best and most fuel and carbon efficient routes.

The trials that begin at the end of this month will see us go from that environment to one where we’ll receive aircraft position reports every 5-8 seconds. That’s a total game changer that immediately delivers a major safety improvement through faster conformance monitoring (ie is a plane doing what we think it should be), while also boosting capacity on the optimum routes by allowing us to begin reducing separation standards.


How will space-based ADS-B help in terms of the growth of air traffic in the North Atlantic Tracks?

Last year over 500,000 flights crossed the North Atlantic, making it the world’s busiest piece of oceanic airspace and Europe’s transatlantic gateway. That demand is expected to reach 800,000 flights by 2030, and today’s rigid track structure just won’t be able to deal with that kind of demand without creating significant delays. The need to meet that demand, together with the clear safety benefits is what makes this so significant.  


What are some of the immediate versus long term navigation benefits that operators flying between North America and Europe will see from the introduction of space-based ADS-B?

Variable Mach available from March 28, will let customers fly the speeds that suit them. Moving to 14/17nm longitudinal separation on March 28 and 19nm lateral separation to follow around six months later. The new separation standards we’ve developed (ASEPS – Advance Surveillance Enabled Procedural separation Standards) have been agreed by ICAO and reflect the addition and performance of our new surveillance alongside our datalink communications. It’s those new separation standards that enable the reduction. 

Additionally, the deployment of user preferred routes, including the disestablishment of the NAT Organized Track Structure will begin in the 2021-2022 timeframe. 


Does the introduction of space-based ADS-B enable any new applications in terms of services from NATS to airspace users and customers?

At the moment all eyes are on the trials on the North Atlantic, but there is no doubt that there are other possible applications for global surveillance data that we’re beginning to explore. Once we move to a near real-time surveillance environment, things like long range air traffic flow management become a possibility, so that’s very exciting for us given the congestion we have in our airspace, especially over the London area.


Check out more information about space-based ADS-B in the new March 2019 edition of Avionics International. 

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