Iridium creates JV to monitor airlines using satellite

Air traffic management agencies around the globe will now be able to continuously track aircraft anywhere in the world through Aireon LLC, a planned joint venture announced last week by Iridium Communications Inc.

Aireon (McLean, Va., USA), will deliver a surveillance capability to Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and their commercial airline customers through a joint venture between Iridium and NAV Canada (Ontario, Canada), a company that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation system, with support from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and suppliers Harris Corporation (Melbourne, Fla., USA) and ITT Exelis (McLean, Va., USA).

NAV Canada intends to be Aireon's first customer. In its North Atlantic operation, NAV Canada provides air traffic management for 1,200 flights per day.  

Aireon will enable fully global and continuous space-based monitoring and control of aircraft, even over oceans and remote regions where it is not currently possible, says Iridium (McLean, Va., USA). Aireon's service will use space-qualified Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receivers built into each of the 66 satellites in Iridium's second-generation satellite constellation to deliver monitoring capabilities.

These ADS-B receivers will complement ground-based air navigation systems currently in use by relaying, in near-real time, position and status information of aircraft flying over oceans, poles and remote regions to air traffic controllers. This new capability will extend the benefits of current radar-based surveillance systems, which cover less than 10% of the world, to the entire planet, says Iridium.

Iridium satellites are scheduled to launch from 2015 to 2017, and will provide this capability as the new satellites are commissioned, with full service expected by 2017. Aireon's offering will enable commercial airline operations to be more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly.

Through optimal routing and increased capacity, Iridium estimates that Aireon will enable airlines to save approximately $6-8 billion in fuel costs just on their North Atlantic, and North and Central Pacific routes over the initial 12-year period from when Aireon becomes operational in 2018.

Optimal routing, whereby planes are enabled to climb rapidly to, and fly longer at, more efficient altitudes and in better weather conditions, could reduce carbon emissions significantly. When fully operational, Iridium estimates that Aireon could save the carbon equivalent of removing approximately two million cars off the road annually.

Also, the continuous global surveillance will allow ANSPs to extend safety benefits in air travel. Aireon will make the air traffic control capabilities of ADS-B, the technology underlying the U.S. and Canada's next-generation air traffic management upgrade programs, available to all nations, which will aim to broaden safety in regions of the world that have not yet implemented ADS-B.

Today the world is divided into Flight Information Regions where ANSPs safely manage aircraft within their designated coverage areas. For example, across the heavily traveled North Atlantic, the FAA, NAV Canada and NATS in the UK manage traffic between points in Europe and North America but need to keep aircraft widely-spaced in part because of the lack of radar visibility over oceanic airspace. Aireon will provide complete visibility to all aircraft everywhere, helping ANSPs decrease inefficiencies.

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