Global air traffic management changed forever in 2019 with the introduction of Space-Based ADS-B surveillance over the North Atlantic.
For the first time in history, it became possible to monitor transatlantic traffic in real-time, enabling the safe reduction in separation standards to increase access to the most fuel efficient trajectories. At a stroke it made the world’s busiest oceanic airspace safer, more predictable, more fuel efficient and environmentally sustainable.
The team that made that transformation possible has now been honoured by the Royal Aeronautical Society, winning the prestigious Silver Medal for work that spanned years, organisations, and continents.
The project saw the UK air traffic service, NATS, along with it its Canadian counterpart, NAV CANADA and the technology service provider Aireon, working with the Irish Aviation Authority and other industry partners and stakeholders, including Airservices Australia and ICAO.
Deploying the Aireon service took years of careful work. From developing and testing the technology to designing new procedures, writing new standards, safety assurance, benefit analysis and regulatory engagement.
Andy Smith FRAeS, Head of ATM Evolution and Design at NATS, said: “It’s rare that you get to work on a truly transformative project, but this was certainly one of them. It would simply have not been possible without the incredible skill and dedication of people across all the organisations involved, from strategy and concept development, through to operational deployment.
“As a result, today we’re able to deliver a service that’s safer, greener and more predictable for our oceanic customers. It’s an honour to now have that work recognised by the Royal Aeronautical Society.”
Today, transatlantic aircraft can fly with smaller separation distances, down from c.40nm to 14nm. This means more can share the fastest, most environmentally friendly trajectories and fly at the speed that suits them. Real-time surveillance also means controllers can intervene almost instantly in the event of an unexpected route or level change, sometimes even before the aircraft has left their safe trajectory.
The introduction of the Aireon service is also allowing room for further innovation, including the reduction of the entire footprint of the Oceanic Track Structure. In 2021 this led to 20 days with no tracks at all, allowing aircraft operators total freedom to fly the trajectories that best suited them, a change that may one day become permanent.