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Marking Five Years of Operational Excellence

By Vinny Capezzuto, Aireon Chief Technology Officer

April 2019. Years of planning, designing, developing, forecasting, testing, launching, and calibrating became a reality when the Aireon global air traffic surveillance system – the first of its kind – became an operational reality. For the first time ever, all automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft were visible no matter where they were on the globe.

It was a momentous day when the system went operational. And that operational milestone five years ago marked a huge shift in the aviation industry, allowing air navigation service providers (ANSP) to realize never-before-achieved operational, environmental and safety benefits, thanks, in part, to Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data.

Successful team photo
Celebrating the first operational day in 2019.

While the last five years have not been without challenges – COVID, geopolitical conflicts, economic slowdowns, declining air traffic – ANSPs have not wavered in their commitment to airspace safety and environmental responsibility. And those efforts have been supported by Aireon’s robust data set.

And the five-year operational anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come and to get excited about the future.

For some perspective, here’s a rundown of what air traffic looked like in 2019 versus now …

  • Before Aireon, ANSPs had to rely on position updates from aircraft every 10-15 minutes to track aircraft outside of radar coverage. Now, those updates are in real-time, anywhere in the world.
  • Before Aireon, aircraft flying across the North Atlantic were using longitudinal spacing of 60 nautical miles. Now, those separations are down to 14 n.m., and getting shorter.
  • Before Aireon, 70 percent of the globe did not have real-time surveillance. And now, the entire globe has it.

None of this would have been possible without the support and commitment from a number of industry pioneers, specifically NATS and NAV CANADA, which were the first ANSPs to use the Aireon service. Since 2019, more than 50 percent of the world’s airspace – representing more than 40 countries – have signed on to use Aireon data for air traffic surveillance.

And those customers have seen remarkable gains in efficiency and environmental impact based on the operational gains allowed by space-based ADS-B.

NATS said earlier this year around 73% of aircraft achieve their requested trajectory at the Oceanic Entry point, and 85% of aircraft get their requested flight level or higher in their initial Oceanic Clearance. Compare this to the pre-Space Based ADS-B era, where NATS was only able to provide 61% of flights with their requested trajectory in their initial clearance. “This is a big improvement in the service we can offer, helping to reduce fuel burn and emissions,” NATS said in a blog.

Another ADS-B pioneer – NAV CANADA – has said that more flights over the North Atlantic are now operating at their requested profile thanks to space-based ADS-B. Flights that are cleared to a more efficient flight level average 470 kg in fuel savings per flight for a three-hour duration over the ocean. This translates to a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 1,480 kg of CO2 equivalent per flight.

NAV CANADA reported air traffic control can now see aircraft move in real-time with a smart system that:

— Improves ATC situational awareness, reaction time, and confidence,

— Provides earlier error detection and reduced workload,

— Displays discrepancies between what ATC expects vs what the aircraft is doing, and

— In some cases, displays pilots’ intent before the aircraft even moves.

In Canada’s Gander Oceanic Control Area, for the first half of 2023, 82% of its actual deviations were mitigated by space-based ADS-B.

And we’re just getting started. The skies are clear and we’re gearing up for an exciting next phase for Aireon. Our dedication to safety and serving our customers will remain, and at the same time, we’re bringing new data products and services to the marketplace. Following on the success of the Aireon Safety Dashboard, we’ll be introducing analytic tools to bring insight to the data. We are working with partners to expand our customer base to bring our market-leading products to a broader base of customers.

And don’t forget about the Aireon Space-Based VHF Coalition, which is setting the stage for the next big evolution in communications.

Thank you to our customers, partners and investors for committing to Aireon and for your support during our first five years in operations.

Have questions about improving your operations? Contact us, and we’ll show you that the answer is our data.