Commercial, Regulation

Thales to Supply ADS-B Upgrades for China’s Largest Air Cargo Airline

SF Airlines, the largest air cargo operator in China, is retrofitting its all-Boeing fleet, including the 747 freighter pictured here, with ADS-B avionics supplied by Thales. Photo: SF Airlines

SF Airlines is retrofitting its all-Boeing fleet with replacement traffic collision avoidance system directional antennas and air traffic control transponders supplied by Thales to become Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) compliant.

Avionics for the upgrade are being provided by Thales and its joint venture with L3Harris, ACSS. SF Airlines, established in 2009, operates a fleet that includes Boeing 737, 747, 757 and 767s in air freighter configurations, and became the largest air cargo operator in China in September 2019, according to its website.

ADS-B Out requirements vary within Chinese airspace regionally. Hong Kong, as an example, requires ADS-B for all operations at or above 29,000 feet on airways L642 and M771, according to Universal Weather & Aviation Inc, which also notes the requirement elsewhere in the flight information region, including the “Urumqi CTA. ZWWWAR02, ZWWWAR03, ZWWWAR05 and ZWWWAR06."

Thales, in confirming the SF Airlines upgrade, notes that the CAAC is requiring all of China’s in-service commercial aircraft to implement ADS-B Out version 2 functions by Jan. 1, 2023. Version 2 refers to the requirement for DO-260B compliant transponder, which adds information within the message broadcasted that gives controllers a means to provide better service in extremely dense areas of airspace.

It is also the accepted transponder version in the U.S., where ADS-B became mandated in most areas in January, and Europe, where the European Commission recently delayed its ADS-B mandate until December 2020 with new provisions.

Upgrades to the SF Airlines fleet will include installations unique to the configuration of each individual aircraft type. The transponder being supplied for the upgrade is the NXT family of transponders, 5,000 of which are currently in service, according to Thales

The SF Airlines fleet upgrade is the latest ADS-B related activity by Thales for the onboard side of the technology in China. The company first started supporting the CAAC’s analysis of the use of air traffic situational awareness (ATSA) enhanced visual separation on approach (VSA) ADS-B In application at Shanghai’s Hongquiao International Airport in December 2017. Thales has also deployed 43 radars, 20 ATC automation systems more than 677 navaids, as well as one set of ADS-B and two multilateration systems in the country.

“We are very honored to partner with SF Airlines and provide this avionics retrofit to the largest aircraft cargo fleet in China,” Jerome Bendell, CEO of Thales in China said in a May 19 press release.

SF Airlines plans to complete the entire fleet upgrade by the end of 2022.

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