ADS-B: aircraft surveillance at the top of the world

With its enhanced capabilities and low cost, next-generation ADS-B aircraft surveillance technology is becoming an aviation industry standard. But what are the challenges and benefits of implementing ADS-B in the world's more remote regions? Denmark's ANSP Naviair is about to find out as it prepares to extend ADS-B coverage to lower Greenland and the Faroe Islands.


As automatic dependent surveillance - broadcast (ADS-B) gathers global momentum as a next-generation replacement for traditional radar systems, the patchwork of ADS-B coverage around the world is steadily being filled in.

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Despite concerns over issues like its apparent vulnerability to hacking, the aircraft surveillance technology shows few signs of losing credibility in the international air traffic management (ATM) community.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is making ADS-B a central pillar of the US's NextGen air traffic control upgrade, and plans to make it obligatory for most aircraft in US airspace by 2020.

The technology will also play an important part in the implementation of the EU's Single European Sky airspace integration initiative.

Major air traffic hotspots such as the US and Europe are already on their way towards making ADS-B an established standard for aircraft surveillance, but what about the world's more remote regions, the airspace that exists on the fringes of the ADS-B patchwork?

The frigid, semi-arctic landscapes of Greenland and the Faroe Islands certainly fall on those outskirts, despite the importance of their airspace as a North Atlantic bridge between Europe and North America.

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Despite the hostile conditions found in the most remote locations in these territories, Denmark's air navigation service provider (ANSP) Naviair is determined to bring them into the ADS-B fold to improve the efficiency and safety of transatlantic flights passing over this region.

To this end, Naviair, which is responsible for flight information services and infrastructure maintenance in the lower airspace of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, announced in January 2013 that it would work with Saab Sensis to extend ADS-B coverage to the region.

The project, which will involve the installation and operation of Saab Sensis's ADS-B transceivers in some of the region's most inaccessible locations, will allow Naviair to provide ADS-B data of equipped en-route flights to the Reykjavik Control Area Center.

Naviair's director of ATM projects and engineering Mikael Ericsson explained the project and objectives to us in more detail.

Chris Lo: What issues in the airspace over Greenland and the Faroe Islands led Naviair to seek ADS-B coverage in this region?

"ADS-B coverage in the region will reduce separation minima and improve situational awareness for operators."

Mikael Ericsson: Extended surveillance coverage over Iceland, part of Greenland, and the surrounding oceanic area has been a wish for a long time. It will greatly benefit aircraft crossing the North Atlantic as it bridges the surveillance systems in North America with its counterparts in Europe, making it possible to cross the North Atlantic under constant ADS-B / radar surveillance.

Before the ADS-B technique was developed, it was examined if secondary radars could cover the areas of interest in Greenland, but the cost would be considerably high. Now the ADS-B technique has become mature and it will provide coverage in remote areas, as well as improve the existing surveillance coverage.

ADS-B coverage in the region will reduce separation minima and improve situational awareness for operators and ATS [air traffic service] personnel.

CO2 emissions will be reduced due to optimal flight levels and more direct flight paths, which will also improve efficiency and capacity. Other benefits include emergency status information and improved search and rescue possibilities.

CL: Do you think ADS-B technology has become the expected standard across the world, even in more remote regions?

ME: ADS-B has a future worldwide, as the technique is relatively simple and inexpensive compared to conventional surveillance equipment such as radars. Especially in remote areas with limited infrastructure, ADS-B will provide the possibility to introduce surveillance or to phase out the relatively cost-intensive radars in these areas. However, it is difficult to foresee which technology will become the expected standard of the future.

CL: Why did Naviair choose Saab Sensis to implement its ADS-B system?

ME: In 2012 Naviair announced the EU tender for the purchase of ADS-B equipment for Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

"The project will involve the installation of ADS-B in some of the region's most inaccessible locations."

The selection of the supplier was done according to the EU tender rules and the requirements stated by Naviair.

It was important for Naviair that the future supplier had experience with the installation and operation of ADS-B equipment in harsh and arctic environments.

As a supplier for ANSPs like NAV Canada, Saab Sensis has demonstrated experience with the installation and operation of ADS-B systems in similar remote arctic areas.

CL: Does the remoteness of this region make the implementation and operation of ADS-B more challenging?

"Three of the sites in Greenland are located on distant mountain tops, and are only accessible by helicopter."

ME: The implementation of ADS-B in remote arctic areas is indeed challenging, especially the installations in Greenland. Three of the sites in Greenland are located on distant mountain tops, and are only accessible by helicopter.

To minimise installation costs, the project has as far as possible chosen sites with existing infrastructure such as power, shelters and towers.

Because Tele Greenland provides telecommunication for all Greenland, the company has stations along most of the west coast of Greenland, and a few stations on the east cost.

Tele Greenland has implemented and maintained the infrastructure by themselves, and Naviair will use their expertise during the project and for future maintenance of the ADS-B system.

CL: Naviair's technical maintenance director Bent Fog described Greenland and the Faroe Islands as a "difficult operating area" - what problems does this area present, and how can Saab's ADS-B cope with these issues?

ME: The issue is the difficult geographical positions of the equipment, which is placed in very remote areas under extreme weather conditions. Those conditions require equipment which is very reliable and can operate under those conditions. Saab Sensis has in similar remote arctic areas proved that they can fulfil those requirements.

CL: How busy is the airspace in this region, and how will ADS-B improve the efficiency and environmental performance of flights on these routes?

ME: There are approximately 1,000 flights per day in this region. ADS-B will improve efficiency because you will be able to reduce the separation minima between the aircraft, and this increases the number of eastbound aircraft that can fly with the jet stream 'push' and avoid the headwind for westbound aircraft. This has also a big impact on fuel consumption and the environment. Not to forget the safety issue; because you have a precise picture of aircraft positions, this will lead to better situational awareness.

CL: 70% of flights in this region are currently equipped with ADS-B equipment - will this percentage have to rise to 100% to get the full benefits of the system?

ME: The number of ADS-B equipped flights is increasing - 85% in December 2012 - but we must realize that 100% equipped flights will not be possible in the near future. There are different solutions to this problem, which, for example, can be solved with White List and vertical separation of traffic, with or without ADS-B approved equipment.

CL: For Naviair, what are the business and financial benefits of installing the ADS-B system?

ME: Naviair is, as an ANSP, a part of the value chain in the aviation business. For that reason, improvements of services are a part of the Naviair strategy both in regards to CNS [communication, navigation, surveillance] equipment as well as ATM equipment.

CL: Will Naviair be co-ordinating with other ANSPs in the region, like Isavia, to operate ADS-B for Greenland and the Faroe Islands?

ME: Naviair is the responsible for implementing ADS-B in Greenland and the Faroe Islands and also for maintaining the sites. Naviair will set up the equipment and make it available to Isavia and NavCanada, and they are responsible for the operational use of the equipment above FL [flight level] 195, according to their delegated airspace.

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