It all started when in the early 2000s a small group of American developers designed a unique device. It had a simple, but very important mission - to track aircraft during the flight and prevent their disappearance. A few years later, the American company Aireon has started commercialization of the device. From now on, the mass use of the transmitter made it possible to minimize the probability of disappearance of the aircraft from the radarto a level unprecedented until now. A specific receiver was installed on the aircraft and allowed to keep the aircraft in sight of earth radars, wherever it was. The device was called ADS-B and provoked a real revolution in the field of aviation.

Later, Aireon joined efforts with FlightAware (an international company specializing in the development of software for tracking flights) and together they have started distributing technology all over the world. Now the ADS-B equipment on the aircraft is included in the official international flight safety programs. Today, the use of ADS-B formed the basis of AireonSM — the global aircraft surveillance network. It allows real-time determination of the location of aircraft, transmits information on the status of all systems, provides distress signals and information storage.

Moreover, the AireonSM system was able to reach a radically new level thanks to Aireon's collaboration with Iridium Satellite LLC, a company that owns 141 active Earth satellites (cover almost the entire planet, including poles and oceans). Let us recall that on January 11, 2019, the Falcon-9 launch vehicle successfully put into orbit the last 10 satellites of the Iridium Next communication system, which are equipped with ADS-B receivers. Thus, the satellite operator Iridium completed the project on the formation of the satellite constellation Iridium Next, which consists of 75 spacecraft. However, this space system does not resolve the issue of tracking aircraft that are not yet equipped with ADS-B equipment.

The joint project of FlightAware, Aireon and Iridium Satellite LLC combined the "Space" ADS-B with the data of ground stations provided global coverage with an unprecedented ability to track aircraft on the entire flight route. And this, without exaggeration, is a breakthrough in the field of flight monitoring.

The transition to tracking aircraft using ADS-B technology is the first major advancement in aircraft tracking since the invention of radar in the 1930s. ADS-B ground stations improve the quality and accuracy of flight tracking, but, like radars, they were recently limited in their ability to control aircraft over the surface of the Earth covered by water. Cooperation with Iridium NEXT allowed to solve this problem. Thanks to communication with satellites, it is now possibleto monitor aircraft that are over the ocean.

How it works

Pilots use GPS or similar technology to determine their position, and a barometric altimeter is used to determine altitude. Planes with an ADS-B transponder broadcast their identification data as well as their three-dimensional coordinates (altitude, longitude and latitude) at a frequency of 1090 MHz or 978 MHz. This signal can be received if the aircraft is in sight (maximum distance 300 miles/480km at cruising speed). Receivers installed in different parts of the world send this data via the Internet in real time to the FlightAware server, where it is processed so that, based onthis information, users can track flights through the appropriate interface. Approximately 70% of all airliners and 10% of private jets around the world use ADS-B

The benefits

The main purpose seemed obvious - to observe the aircraft, to warn hundreds of cases of the disappearance of the aircraft without a trace (as it was before), to avoid collisions and incorrectly constructed air routes.The ADS-B technology has become widespread, allowing air traffic controllers and pilots tooperate without traditional radars. The abbreviation stands for “Automatic dependent surveillance—broadcast". Any aircraft can send accurate location information at any time duringthe entire flight. In addition, an airplane with an ADS-B transmitter constantly receives updated weather information. Upon request from the air controllers following data may be transmitted:

  • altitude
  • airplane heading
  • vertical speed

Operating principle of the system sounds like "everyone should watch everyone." This allows to avoid many issues arising from a failure in data transmission. ADS-B technology is based on the use of GPS. With its help, the exact coordinates of the aircraft are established, and transmitted every second or upon request. Aircraft and ground stations are equipped with ADS-B devices. This allows them to receive and receive information, further data aggregation takes place, including those that are received on airplanes that are not equipped with ADS-B. The overall picture is available to all participants in the flight, which makes it possible to ensure safety in air.

The ADS-B system can be compared with wireless networks. Each ground station is perceived as an access point, and the aircraft - as a client of the network. Data exchange takes place without human intervention, in this case, all information is combined and becomes available to all links, ranging from the controller and ending with the pilots who perform the flight.

There are more obvious reasons for an ordinary person why ADS-B system is being so highly promoted. The biggest benefit from the large-scale implementation of the technology is for the air transport business: the global use of ADS-B in the future will reduce the minimum allowed distance between planes by almost three times, so that, the number of commercial flights will increase exponentially. And it means that the profits of the airlines will grow.

Expectations for the ADS-B system

The safety requirements of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization, United Nations) are becoming increasingly stringent. Given the ever-growing traffic, aviation is in dire need of monitoring every aircraft in the air. From now on, all international airlines will have to hurry with mounting ADS-B equipment on their aircraft and obtaining operational approval for ADS-B (according to EASA AMC20-24, which all airlines must fulfill until June 2020. EASA is the European Aviation Security Agency). At the same time, today, a large number of airlines are still not equipped with receivers in accordance with the new standards. Not all fleet owners tend to fall under the expansion of ADS-B. Thus, the percentage of ADS-B equipped helicopters registered in the USA is relatively low. Thousands of US military bases are also not thrilled with this program, as it offers wide public access to their ADS-B position reports.

As for Ukraine, the situation has common features with the world. Now, we, as well as all European countries, are obliged to implement the EASA program for the mandatory completion of aircraft with ADS-B devices until the end of 2020. So, today, the majority of passenger planes in the commercial sector are already equipped with ADS-B. The insignificant difference of the Ukrainian market only lies in the fact that Ukrainians have chosen Flightradar service fo tracking aircraft, whereas the world is led by FlightAware, which is similar in functioning. However, this does not affect the aircraft tracking quality. The main guarantee of the most effective control over the aircraft is, of course, more “iron birds” with ADS-B on board.