Spectrum for Flight Tracking: agreement reached at WRC-15

This week, the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) reached an agreement to allocate radiofrequency spectrum for the global flight tracking for civil aviation in response to pressing demand for coordinated action by ITU and other relevant organizations for global flight tracking following the loss Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014.

The frequency band 1087.7-1092.3 MHz – currently being utilized for the transmission of ADS-B signals from aircraft to terrestrial stations within line-of-sight – has been allocated to the aeronautical mobile-satellite service (Earth-to-space) for reception by space stations of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) emissions from aircraft transmitters. This extends ADS-B signals beyond line-of-sight to facilitate reporting the position of aircraft equipped with ADS-B anywhere in the world, including oceanic, polar and other remote areas.

Don Thoma, President and CEO of Aireon, addresses the significance of the decision taken at WRC-15 and explains why this is such an important leap forward for aviation safety.

What is the significance of what is been done here at WRC-15 in respect of spectrum allocation for ADS-B which tracks aircraft via satellite navigation?

A majority of the earth’s aerospace – over 70 per cent of it – is not tracked by any device, any radar or any type of capability. What we saw at WRC-15 was a response by the world community to the Malaysia MH370 tragedy, where they weren’t able to find an aircraft because there weren’t adequate means for tracking the aircraft. So, what we see here is an action taken to help prevent that from happening again.

What will be done with this spectrum allocation when it’s finalized?

It will allow an aircraft to be tracked anywhere in the world, provide the information to air traffic controllers in order to improve the safety and the efficiency of air travel around the world. The process will be finalized and in place by 2017.

What are the benefits of ADS-B by satellite?

There are three main benefits for controlling and monitoring aircraft from satellite. The first and foremost is improved safety: providing controllers with a 100 per cent picture of the aerospace allows them to keep aeroplanes safe as they transit through their airspace. Second, by providing that capability, the air traffic control authorities can allow more efficient routes through their airspace, saving the airlines a significant amount of fuel. And then, of course, once you are reducing the amount of fuel that is being burned by aircraft, you make a significant reduction in carbon emissions by those aircraft.

What role do governments play in moving this technology to maturity?

I think this is a very good demonstration on how the intergovernmental organizations, such as the ITU and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) can come together to address an urgent need – they moved very rapidly in coming to the conclusion that is really going to benefit global aviation for both safety and efficiency.

Based on an interview with Don Thoma, President and CEO of Aireon, at WRC-15. 

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