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Aireon to Provide Emergency Aircraft Tracking for Free

By | September 23, 2014
      Jet aircraft plane

      Planes equipped with a 1090 MHz ADS-B transceiver can be tracked using Aireon’s space-based ADS-B. Photo: Aireon.

      [Via Satellite 09-23-2014] Aireon has announced it is including a free emergency aircraft-tracking feature in its upcoming space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) constellation. The Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT) system will become operational shortly after the constellation begins service in 2017, providing information for search and rescue teams in the event of an emergency, such as a missing plane.

      “[Aireon is] primarily focused on providing real time surveillance over any unsurveilled airspace and with the primary purpose of allowing Air Traffic Control (ATC) organizations or Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) to provide better services, including improving efficiency and safety,” Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon, told Via Satellite. “[But] we realized that we needed to be prepared to support any emergency situations that could arise and be able to provide this data in a timely manner to the appropriate authorities.”

      Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system consists of 81-hosted payloads attached to the upcoming Iridium NEXT constellation. The first of these satellites launches in the second quarter of 2015 with Kosmotras, followed by a series of seven launches with SpaceX. Once in orbit, the payloads will be able to track any aircraft in the world equipped with a 1090 MHz ADS-B transponder.

      The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set a goal of full ADS-B implementation by 2020 to better account for the location of aircraft. Currently, aircraft tracking is limited to terrestrial technology, thus only available in areas where the infrastructure can be built. Mountains, valleys, oceans and other demanding environments create holes in coverage of the sky. Satellites, being situated miles above both aircraft and the surface of the Earth, transcend these problems. Other space-based ADS-B tracking systems are also in the works by Inmarsat and Globalstar.

      Aircraft do not need any new avionics, nor will ANSP’s need new systems to use Aireon ALERT. The company plans to grant access to authorized users in advance of any situation so that responders can act quickly if called upon.

      “We want to be respectful of the privacy of the data, especially in search and rescue situations, so we want to make sure that we work out a process with the stakeholders to provide authorization for those organizations to obtain the data in advance, and then give a process by which we can authenticate their request so that we can provide them the data in a very rapid format,” said Thoma.

      Thoma hopes the free service will act as a call to action for stakeholders to collaborate on the service to make it as effective as it can be when needed. Aireon is a joint venture between Iridium, NAV CANADA, Italy-based ENAV, Demark-based Naviair and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). The company has been working on the service for several months, but has not yet decided where the call center will be located.

      “We are convinced now that we have the ability to provide an application and a 24/7 call center capability for any ANSP, airline or air traffic search and rescue authority as long as they are authorized to obtain the real time information — last flight path and last known position — of any aircraft that they have lost communications with and feel could be in an emergency situation,” said Thoma.

      Aireon ALERT will work by querying the company’s database of all ADS-B equipped air traffic. In the event a plane is in distress or unaccountable for, the company would identify it using its unique ID provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). First responders would then have access to location information either in electronic format or via personal readout depending on their capabilities to coordinate a more rapid response.