Aireon boss reiterates continued need for traditional air navigation technologies

14 December 2017
Don Thoma, president and CEO of Aireon LLC, spoke to during the ICAO GANIS event on 11–15 December. Source: Aireon LLC

The president and CEO of Aireon LLC has said that its eponymous space-based automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) service will operate alongside ground-based technology, but will not replace it.

Speaking to Jane’s during the ICAO Global Air Navigation Symposium in Montréal on 11–15 December, Don Thoma emphasised the complementary nature and role of the Aireon ADS-B network. “There will be a need for ground-based infrastructure for high-congestion to low-usage airspace,” he said, adding that Aireon will provide healthy excess surveillance capacity that will boost reliability. “This will boost safety. We need redundancy.”

Thoma noted the potential of satellite navigation technology in unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management (UTM) – but only if the UAS platform is large enough to carry a transponder. Smaller UAS operating at low altitudes are another matter, as non-ADS-B systems would be required.

Looking ahead, Thoma welcomed the development of international blueprints for operating System Wide Information Management (SWIM). As Aireon provides a global airspace surveillance capability, running on an open ADS-B standard, SWIM “removes all the complexity of data-sharing agreements”, he remarked. Integrating ADS-B data and other navigational information into a single database reduces the cost of “getting truth”, Thoma added.

Information derived from Aireon helps air navigation service providers and regulators to optimise flight paths – even for airspace outside their jurisdiction. Thoma cited the example of the Civil Aviation Administration of Singapore, which is using Aireon data to improve traffic flows around Changi Airport.

Aireon uses ADS-B payloads from Harris on Iridium NEXT satellites, the fourth batch of which is due to be launched on 22 December. This will bring the total number deployed to 40 out of the 66 planned to be operational by mid-2018. The constellation includes another nine orbiting spares and six more ground spares.

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