Flight Ops software makers offer to streamline flight dispatch, reduce delays, recover from weather and maintenance problems and improve passenger service.
How do these software systems help flight operations departments manage their operations safely, efficiently, in accordance with regulation and save their companies money? We will take a look at what these products really do and how they can ultimately increase profitability.
Sabre Corporation says it is taking significant measures to strengthen its financial position in response to the current industry conditions. Due to the travel industry being adversely affected by the global health crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as by government directives that have been enacted to slow the spread of the virus.
“This is an unprecedented time. The global travel industry is facing challenges beyond what has been experienced before. We believe Sabre is well positioned to navigate this challenging environment. We are fortunate that significant aspects of our cost structure are variable and are taking steps to help align our other costs with the current demand environment,” said Sean Menke, president and CEO of Sabre. “We have identified and are in the process of removing over $200 million in cash costs from the business in 2020. Given the magnitude of travel decline and the unknown duration of the COVID-19 impact, we will continue to monitor travel activity and take additional steps should we determine they are necessary.”
As part of these cost reductions, Sabre has begun implementing several immediate actions with regard to its workforce and other costs during this difficult business climate. These actions include:
A temporary reduction in base compensation pay for its US-based salaried workforce, including a 25% reduction for its CEO, and Sabre will work with international employees on a country-by-country basis,
A reduction in the cash retainer for members of its Board of Directors,
Sabre’s 401(k) match program will be temporarily suspended for US-based employees who contribute to its 401(k) program,
On a global basis, Sabre is offering voluntary unpaid time off, voluntary severance and a voluntary early retirement program, and
Sabre is reducing third-party contracting, vendor costs and other discretionary spending.
Additionally, the decline in global travel driven by COVID-19 is expected to result in:
A proportional decline in Sabre Travel Network incentive expense, and
A reduction in Sabre’s approximately $250 million semi-variable technology hosting costs.
In addition to the cost reductions described above:
On March 16, Sabre’s Board of Directors voted to suspend the payment of quarterly cash dividends on Sabre’s common stock, effective with respect to the dividends occurring after the March 30, 2020 payment, and
Sabre announced the suspension of its share repurchase program.
“As it relates to our liquidity, we drew down our revolver in the amount $375 million, which adds to our existing cash balance of $436 million as of 2019 year-end. Additionally, our credit agreement permits us to suspend the financial covenant related to the maintenance of our leverage ratio if a “Material Travel Event Disruption” has occurred. We believe that recent capacity reductions by domestic airlines will lead in the coming months to a finding that a Material Travel Event Disruption has occurred,” said Doug Barnett, CFO of Sabre. “We also note that about two-thirds of our cost structure is adjustable in the near-term. We will continue to assess the travel environment and whether additional cost actions beyond the $200 million announced today are necessary.”
A British Airways aircraft loaded with vital medical supplies from China is on its way back to London Heathrow.
The British Airways Boeing 777 is loaded with ventilators as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) including goggles, face guards and gowns.
The flight was operated in partnership with the UK Government and IAG Cargo. The British Embassy is working with the Department of Health to procure medical equipment from China and deliver it to NHS hospitals all over the UK.
The flight departed from Shanghai at 11am local UK time on 9 April and is due to touch down at Heathrow later this afternoon.
This flight was the first of several British Airways flights containing medical equipment and supplies coming in to the UK from China. Over the coming days, 55 tonnes of hand sanitiser – equivalent to around 62,000 large bottles – will arrive in the UK on a similar flight from Shanghai.
Minister of State for Asia, Nigel Adams said: “I am delighted that we have been able to reopen the British Airways route from Shanghai to deliver lifesaving equipment that we have bought for the NHS.
“We have been working round the clock to bolster the NHS supplies and save lives and we are seeking further deliveries as a matter of urgency.”
“We are doing all we can to support the global response to Covid-19, whether it’s flying important medical supplies in to the UK or helping to bring Britons home,” Alex Cruz, British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, said. “We will continue to use all available resources to support the Government, the NHS and communities all over the world who might be in need of our help.”
Appareo has introduced a new flight app called Stratus Insight. Stratus Insight is an electronic flight bag (EFB) suite that includes VFR sectional maps, IFR low/high charts, geo-referenced approach plates, TAWS, and AHRS with synthetic vision. Beyond typical EFB features, Stratus Insight also provides ATC Radio Transcription and Playback, Vertical Weather Profile, Radar Forecast, and Smart Flight Plan. The Stratus Insight application supports integration with all generations of Stratus receivers, which provide subscription-free weather, WAAS GPS information, and ADS-B traffic to the app during flight.
Stratus Insight is one of two software applications in the Stratus family of pilot-friendly affordable avionics. The other app, Stratus Horizon Pro, was the industry’s first app to provide ATC Radio Transcription and Playback to pilots. Those features are now also available in the new Stratus Insight EFB to give pilots the option of flying with an “all-in-one” app experience.
At its core, Stratus Insight is a full-featured EFB designed to make pilots’ lives easier and to provide enhanced situational awareness in the cockpit. Stratus Insight’s weather tools were designed to give pilots a deeper understanding of weather for improved preflight planning. For example, weather modeling products such as Radar Forecast, and a Vertical Weather Profile tool that allows pilots to see conditions across their route of flight based on their aircraft speed and departure time. If changes in weather advisories force a pilot to take an alternate route, Stratus Insight goes beyond simply listing alternate airports — the Smart Flight Plan tool considers fuel stops and day/night currency.
Stratus Insight displays supplemental attitude information driven by a Stratus receiver — essentially creating a “backup glass cockpit” on your iPad, with an impressive synthetic vision view. The app can also be paired with a Bluetooth headset or audio panel to alert pilots with TAWS or runway information.
Beyond its full-featured EFB functionality, Stratus Insight boasts a custom aviation speech recognition system. When paired with a Stratus Audio Cable, the ATC Radio Transcription feature works similar to visual voicemail. ATC communications are converted into text and displayed directly above the audio playback line, providing a helpful visual assist for referencing previous audio clips. This enables pilots to receive a clearance, ATIS, or other important ATC communications without needing to write them down.
Beyond-glass Strategy The speech recognition and language understanding technology that drives the Radio Transcription feature was custom-designed by the Artificial Intelligence (AI) division at Appareo. “We are focused on developing machine learning technology to reduce workload and increase safety in the cockpit,” said Appareo AI Systems Director Josh Gelinske.
The Opportunity At a global scale, speech recognition, translation, and transcription features are commonplace (e.g. Alexa and Siri). However, ATC communications present many challenges for these common speech recognition systems. The high rate of speech, noisy signal, narrow frequency band, and unique location identifiers are among those challenges. Appareo identified that shortfall in the existing technology and set out to develop a speech recognition system customized for aviation.
Apareo’s Solution “We began by designing a deep neural network and training it on thousands of hours of speech and hundreds of hours of ATC data,” said Gelinske. Appareo then designed a custom aviation speech recognition system that was able to run on mobile devices without requiring cellular service or internet connection, so there would be no accessibility limitations during flight.
“Natural Language Processing is also used to interpret the output of the speech recognition system, to present it in a more pilot-friendly format,” Gelinske explains. “For example, tail numbers, altitudes, runways, and frequencies are transcribed in a way that will be more helpful to pilots.”
Appareo Aviation President Kris Garberg explains, “this new AI technology is the baseline for exciting features we have in our app roadmap, which is focused on creating a safer, more convenient way to fly.”
selected GE Aviation for a comprehensive safety contract including
eFOQA Mainline. The program covers the SunExpress fleet including Boeing
737 and Airbus A330 airplanes and expands upon a previous agreement to
enable advanced analytics with enriched data sets that will ultimately
drive greater understanding of flight trends. Implementation is
“GE Aviation’s eFOQA is an
integral tool used by SunExpress to ensure our training programs and
operating policies are not only delivering upon the most stringent
principles of safety and efficiency in the industry but are setting new
standards of excellence. Upgrading to GE’s eFOQA Mainline solution
allows us to carry this to a new level,” commented Sedat Yılmaz,
assistant safety manager with SunExpress.
FOQA (Flight Operations Quality
Assurance), also commonly referred to as FDM (Flight Data Monitoring),
is the process of analyzing and reviewing routinely recorded flight
data. Airlines and operators that adopt FOQA are better able to identify
and eliminate potential safety hazards in flight operations.
“SunExpress puts safety as a top
priority for its operations. Quality and accurate data is a major
enabler to improving safety”, said Ben Ivy, senior product manager for
GE Aviation. “As part of this
agreement, SunExpress is able to break down barriers and make quality
data available across their operations, helping airline safety while
“The partnership with GE
Aviation and their eFOQA data analytics marks a continued commitment
SunExpress has in the support of our flight operations, our flight crews
and, most importantly, our customers,” Sedat Yılmaz said. “Because
safety will always be our top priority, we’ve chosen to work with the
hundreds of operators worldwide, FOQA is GE Aviation’s premier service
for helping operators understand and improve safety. GE’s patented
analytics software fuses meteorological information, navigation data,
and terrain mapping to identify safety events and measurements on
thousands of flights every day.
Since its introduction in the
airline industry more than 20 years ago, FOQA has been widely credited
with reducing incident and accident rates at airlines where it has been
adopted. In its 2017-2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Enhancements,
the NTSB encourages aircraft operators to improve safety oversight of
their aircraft by routinely reviewing recorded flight data in a
structured program such as eFOQA.
Honeywell is bringing clarity and control to business aviation flight departments with the introduction of Honeywell Forge. The data-driven analytics platform provides a full suite of mission-management capabilities in the areas of connectivity, flight operations, navigation databases and maintenance, empowering flight departments to improve operational inefficiencies.
Honeywell says Forge provides business aviation customers with an easy-to-use, integrated dashboard that sends real-time alerts on connectivity issues and flight plan changes. With full visibility into their services, customers can use the platform to tap into data that helps flight departments troubleshoot and fix issues as soon as they arise. Based on these insights, Honeywell Forge can improve the passenger connectivity experience, help manage profitability and give flight departments a better understanding of their fleet.
“We understand that flight departments need a holistic solution that combines the entire fleet operation into a single view,” said John Peterson, vice president and general manager, Software and Services at Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Aerospace. “Honeywell Forge is a powerful suite of technologies that enables operators to prevent problems and have ongoing visibility into their fleet status in real time. This information helps them focus on their work with the assurance that any issues will immediately be brought their attention.”
As the next evolution of what was formally known as Honeywell’s GoDirect portfolio of solutions, Honeywell Forge will focus on state-of-the-art enhanced offerings, partner integrations and a better user experience. Software enhancements will help customers oversee their entire operation, improve how they manage their fleet and reduce operational costs while improving the passenger experience. It offers the following advantages:
Custom alerts in an integrated dashboard, so directors of
maintenance and flight operations always know the status of their fleet
Real-time insights and actions to address connectivity issues,
changes in flight plans, navigation database availability and
maintenance events — improving operational inefficiencies and ultimately
24/7 personalized service and support from Honeywell’s exceptional
support team is available, anytime and anywhere throughout the year
In line with its continued focus on innovation and sustainability, AirAsia is taking its environmental responsibilities a step further by implementing digital solutions that are aimed at further improving fuel efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.
Developed by Paris-based Safety Line, the OptiFlight-In-flight guidance is a suite of digital solutions that optimizes all flight phases.
Following extensive validation tests, AirAsia has implemented OptiClimb which will save up to three percent of its climb fuel, potentially representing a fleetwide carbon footprint reduction of at least 73,000 tons of CO2 per year.
By introducing a number of new digital initiatives to its flight operations, AirAsia is not only offsetting its carbon emissions but also pro-actively reducing them at the source whilst also further reducing costs for the benefit of its customers.
“AirAsia is making every effort to improve its operational efficiency and become a digital airline in all aspects of our business including flight operations, and OptiFlight will allow us to leverage vast amounts of flight data with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions,” AirAsia Group Chief Operations Officer Javed Malik said. “Needless to say, we are excited to be the very first airline to implement OptiClimb in Asia and we continue to look at new ways to innovate and further reduce our carbon footprint.”
Safety Line founder & CEO, Pierre Jouniaux said, “On AirAsia’s medium haul flights, the initial climb alone can represent more than 30% of trip fuel, offering the most potential for savings. However, climb is also the most complex phase, with many parameters changing simultaneously as the aircraft ascends. AirAsia will use historical flight data and Artificial Intelligence to address this complexity and predict fuel burn in different scenarios to recommend optimal climb speeds to pilots for each flight, taking into account individual aircraft performance and accurate 4D weather forecasts.”
In addition to implementing OptiClimb, AirAsia has joined the OptiFlight Innovation Partnership in September 2019 which provides further flight optimization opportunities that will be explored in all flight phases. For instance, AirAsia will be the first airline in Asia to trial OptiDirect, a solution that recommends some adjustments to pilots based on historical tracks flown and forecasted weather on the route.
SITAONAIR has been instrumental in the expansion of Very High Frequency (VHF) coverage throughout Turkey, during the development of the country’s largest new airport hub in Istanbul, which opened in April 2019. SITAONAIR’s expansion of the current VHF infrastructure enhances operations for airlines serving the regional domestic market and the country’s main airports.
In addition to the 29 existing VHF antennae which currently serve Turkey’s main cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Antalya, SITAONAIR is planning to install a further 14 at six additional sites across the country. This will include six new antennae at Istanbul Airport which opened its doors in April 2019.
Istanbul Airport covers around 76.5 square kilometers and plans to accommodate up to 200 million passengers per year upon the completion of all phases. The developments come at a time when Istanbul’s air transport management services face increasingly busy traffic through the flight corridor between Europe and Asia, which spans the region, following the recent closure of Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
SITAONAIR says the company has worked consistently to improve and evolve from its VHF origins by embracing satellite services and VHF Digital Link (VDL) to deal with steep rises in air traffic.
“The expansion of VHF coverage in the region comes at a vital time for the country’s airport migration process,” said Stephan Egli, Commercial VP Middle-East, Africa & Europe comments. “Our inherent expertise in serving the air transport industry make SITAONAIR the right partner at a crucial time where air traffic is booming and in need of a seamless transition, alongside carriers like Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and Sun Express who are poised to support the region’s increased passenger demands. As always, SITAONAIR is proud to support the aviation sector throughout its growth.”
Swiss-based Lakehorn, specializing in the development of mobile aviation applications including AeroWeather, and SKYTRAC, a full-service data-driven solutions provider to the global aviation industry, have agreed to terms on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to bring AeroWeather’s widely adopted aviation weather application to the cockpit with the use of SKYTRAC’s intelligent connectivity capabilities.
The two parties say they share the mutual goal of enabling inflight functionality of applications through cellular and satellite connectivity. SKYTRAC, an Iridium aviation partner currently developing next generation Certus terminals that will increase bandwidth capabilities 35-fold, will explore ways to address the gap in inflight connectivity when cellular transmissions are unavailable for a wide range of web-based applications within the rotorcraft and general aviation segments.
“SKYTRAC is excited to collaborate with Lakehorn to support their market penetration and inflight connectivity goals. We want to ensure we’re at the cutting edge of what’s possible by working with agile companies intent on moving our industry forward. This project will help us leverage each other’s expertise and will open the door to more exciting opportunities in the future,” said Malachi Nordine, president, SKYTRAC.
In addition to application development and potential software integrations between the two entities, SKYTRAC and AeroWeather will leverage their customer bases for novel co-marketing opportunities to expand the global reach of their respective product portfolios.
“We’re excited to see what’s possible with our partnership going forward. SKYTRAC has a vast knowledge of satellite communications and we intend to leverage their expertise in sales, marketing, and engineering to propel our capabilities to new heights,” said Pascal Dreer, president, Lakehorn.
Airbus Services subsidiary NAVBLUE has acquired Aviolinx. Aviolinx provides software and services to the airline industry, including N-RAIDO Ops & Crew Management, that handles all aspects of Network Scheduling, Operations Control, Crew Planning, Crew Management, and day-of-ops Crew Scheduling in a single Flight Operations system. N-RAIDO is a dynamic event-engine coupled with a rules-engine that interacts with a single database. The result is “one dynamic application that can handle both day-of-ops management as well as long-term planning requirements of any sized airline,” according to the company.
For the past two years, NAVBLUE has been the exclusive re-seller of RAIDO under the name N-RAIDO Ops & Crew Management. The company says the acquisition of RAIDO complements NAVBLUE’s solutions across the flight operations eco-system (Flight Planning/Ground Solutions, EFB solutions, ATM). The acquisition will also enable NAVBLUE and Aviolinx to leverage additional joint capabilities to innovate further, industrialize their solutions and expand their market footprint, especially in Tier 1 and 2 airlines.
The two companies say they share the same vision and values. “After two years of partnering with Aviolinx, we are delighted today to welcome them as part of the NAVBLUE family, joining our forces to provide combined offers and reach a larger market penetration, while having a common goal of making tomorrow’s airspace and airline operations more efficient and sustainable,” said Fabrice Hamel, CEO at NAVBLUE. “Meanwhile we will expand our global footprint by adding a new office and team in Sweden.”
Joakim ANDERSSON, Aviolinx founder, will take on the role as managing director for NAVBLUE in Sweden, added, “We are very excited about this new chapter for Aviolinx. Being part of NAVBLUE will allow us to advance our technical competences and expertise even further in combination with NAVBLUE’s expertise and flight operations resources. We are confident that joining our solutions and offering a fully integrated suite will create unbeatable value for any airline looking for a modern and highly efficient technology solution to manage their operations. We look forward to continuing to be game-changers in the industry as part of NAVBLUE.”
ICAO and regulators are introducing location reports and tracking practices that adhere to the GADSS tracking initiative. Aerospace Tech Review is exploring global flight tracking developments and the implications for future operations.
To prevent or minimise air accidents, search and rescue organisations must locate aircraft at the earliest possible opportunity. What is learnt from historical accidents, can at the very least go towards future mitigation.
Investigations into Air France 447 and Malaysia Airlines MH370 led to an industry re-assessment of aircraft tracking and reporting capabilities. Both aircraft descended into oceanic regions (the Atlantic and Indian Ocean respectively). MH370 remains unrecovered.
The events highlighted the difficulty tracking and tracing in remote regions, and an onus on location reporting. Spearheaded by ICAO, the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) tracking initiative was developed, and has been in process since 2014.
While the traditional method of location reporting relied on radar and high frequency (HF radio), these were methods that were often not covered in remote or oceanic areas. Today, satellite coverage means that aircraft can be tracked worldwide, whether oceanic, polar or remote land-based areas. Space-based ADS-B or Satellite-based tracking devices can meet the Aircraft Tracking requirement. However a blend of terrestrial ADS-B and ACARS and other messaging could also meet the recommendation.
To utilise space ADS-B, aircraft require an ABS-B Out or Mode S transponder. “These are installed on most current aircraft,” explains Igor Dimnik, Director, Airline OCC and Crew Application Portfolio at SITAONAIR. “Airlines can therefore track aircraft in remote areas independent of ground-based infrastructure. It means that aircraft not equipped with SATCOM can provide position data anywhere in the world, which will allow airlines to meet mandates without additional equipment.” Dimnik also notes that ADS-B Out avionics are increasingly mandatory in some regions – from January 1, 2020, aircraft operating in FAA airspace must be equipped. ADS-B Out allows aircraft to broadcast identity, location and other information to ATC via the transponder.
ADS-B Out is mandated by EASA from 7th June 2020. “Onus is on the airline to have correct SOPs in place,” advises Paul Gibson, senior product manager at NAVBLUE, an Airbus Company. “They need to ensure transponders are installed but also update SOPs for normal and abnormal operations. It goes beyond the software and hardware.”
The extent to which each operator fulfils the overall GADSS initiative depends on their region of operations, and regulator. GADSS comprises three main functions; ‘Normal’ Aircraft Tracking (AT), Autonomous Distress Tracking (ADT), and Flight Localization & Recovery (PFLR). “Each element has different requirements,” says Ruben Stepin, Director of GADSS & Airline Business Development at SKYTRAC Systems.
It is important to recognise that while ICAO is behind the development and promulgation of such initiatives, it is the regulators including the FAA and EASA that roll out mandates to ensure ICAOs standards & recommended practices (SARPs) are implemented. Dimnik of SITAONAIR elaborates that ICAO’s initiative is not the mandate itself. “Only individual civil aviation agencies with regulatory authority over respective flight information regions (FIRs) can enact these,” he determines. “We see slight disparities in responses by civil aviation agencies: many civil aviation regulatory agencies across the globe, including those in China, Europe, Malaysia and Singapore had already issued mandates and published policy guidance documents for operators registered in their respective airspace back in 2018.
“On their side, the world’s most active airline markets such as Europe and US have committed to comply, but with certain specific differences based on the availability of equipment and possibilities to upgrade equipment. As an example, FAA issued in April 2019 an InFO providing air tracking guidance including the recommendation to track the position of aircraft though automated reporting at least every 15 minutes whether in oceanic airspace or over remote continental airspace (when out of ATS tracking areas).”
GADSS consists of several stages. “It comprises the GADSS concept of operations (CONOPS) which arouse from the ICAO GADSS advisory group and outlines overall vision,” says Stepin. The latest version of this, 6.0 was released in 2017.
The three components are recommendations that were developed as the result of working & advisory groups. These place the responsibility of ensuring sufficient tracking capabilities on each individual operator. “These recommendations included Normal Aircraft Tracking (AT) – which came into effect in November 2018,” continues Stepin. “This suggested that operators should be capable of reporting aircraft position every 15 minutes.” This is also referred to as 4D15; the 4 dimensions referring to latitude, longitude, altitude and time. ICAO explains that AT requirements typically apply to long haul aircraft due to the need to be outside of radar coverage over oceanic areas.
To discuss the idea of ‘GADSS compliance’ therefore, we need to differentiate between two types of operations: normal (for AT) and abnormal (for autonomous distress tracking, or ADT).
“ADT comes into force in January 2021,” adds Stepin. “This applies to forward-fit aircraft with the certificate of airworthiness first issued on or after 01 January 2021, and requires aircraft distress events to be able to report location at one minute intervals and which are resilient to failures of the aircraft’s electrical power, navigation and communication systems..
All solutions proposed as distress tracking / ADT systems will need to be available throughout the operators area of operations, according to ICAO. Satellite constellations which cover the globe are can be used for these systems. ADS-B on its own can’t fulfil all requirements for ADT.
“Last, there is a recommendation for Post Flight Localization and Recovery (also referred to as Timely recovery of flight data (TRFD)) that also comes into effect in January 2021, is also for forward-fit aircraft with the ‘application for type certification’ submitted on or after 01 JAN 2021,” summaries Stepin. “It concerns the recovery of Flight Data in a “timely manner’.”
With ADT, remote activation is required. “The Flight Crew need to be able to manually activate a Distress situation from the cockpit,” explains Stepin. “Manual activation from the ground (from operational control) is not required, but is allowed and recommended, provided the necessary infrastructure on the ground and in the air are met to achieve this.
“Typically Satellite connections are required for this service to work. ELT’s will have to use the Galileo Return Link Service to achieve this,” continues Stepin. “Other Satellite based ADT systems onboard an aircraft could be activated from the ground using the contracted satellite service provision of operator’s choice.”
Achieving tracking benchmarks on a global scale requires aligning regulators and operators. But how have SARPs and mandates affected operational procedure in recent years? ICAO has indicated that operators will need processes in place to ensure they are tracking at 15-minute intervals throughout any oceanic area where this is required, additionally the recommendation is that tracking be accomplished throughout the area of operations. Furthermore the operator will need a process to monitor the information received and take appropriate action when necessary – this is true for both AT and ADT.
As discussed, there are two separate requirements relating to ‘normal’ tracking and also tracking for aircraft in distress. There are therefore different requirements pertaining to each, relating to equipment and operational procedures. According to ICAO, normal tracking means the authority will need to determine that the operator has the relevant processes in place. ADT means that additional requirements are needed including the installation of an approved system.
ICAO indicates that typically these systems are expected to be offered by the major manufacturers as standard equipment, however other solutions exist and if an operator wished to use a third party solution they would need to obtain a supplemental type certificate (STC) for the aircraft type. The authority would then need to confirm that this met the requirements of the SARPs related to distress tracking.
“Due to ADT being only a forward-fit requirement, there is more pressure on the OEMs to deliver aircraft with systems in place that comply,” highlights Stepin. “Every OEM will do things differently, and this can be a problem for operators – particularly, those with varying fleet types.
“In addition to this the ground software will need to be able to function and display information correctly in the event of a distress and differentiate those aircraft that are equipped with a system capable of relaying 1-min position reports to the ground and those that are not,” continues Stepin. “If the airline opts to not employ systems that relay 1-min position report information to the ground (to be visualized), such as an ELT, then they would need to have access to the ICAO proposed Distress Tracking Repository (DTR) or a means to “automatically” receive the information from Cospas-Sarsat system (through the Mission Control Centre or the Rescue Coordination Centre).”
The DTR serves as a means to securely store ADT data and make it accessible to authorized users. “This is because ICAO has recommended that the system autonomously transmit information from which a position can be determined “by the operator” at least once every minute,” adds Stepin.
Mark Duell, vice president at FlightAware has observed that for standardisation reasons some airlines voluntarily retrofit aircraft to adhere to ADT. “They’ll schedule it in the next heavy shop visit,” he says. “The idea of an incident without this capability is a strong incentive, in addition to the benefit of fleet commonality to SOPs.”
Hardware & Software
Since the new standards are performance based, there is no specific ‘one size fits all’ solution to regulatory mandates that meet its recommendations. “A safety mandate is often specific to equipment,” explains Gibson of NAVBLUE. “Because the airline is responsible, the way it’s being enforced is via IATA’s IOSA audits.” Adherence is being checked through this audit process.
The solutions that meet 4D15, ADT and TRFD vary. We know that the ADT system will need to be autonomous and meet the requirements laid out in Annex 6 by ICAO, and we know the 15 and one-minute intervals at which operators will likely need to demonstrate they can report location. Each operator will therefore be seeking solutions that complement their operations, and where possible minimise modifications to fleet.
Various hardware & software solutions are explored, to put into context evolving developments to flight tracking.
Software and aviation data provider FlightAware provides flight tracking via a combination of ADS-B, and multilateration ATC feeds including ATC data and ACARS data. Space-based ADS-B is provided by Aireon, and is publicly available on its ‘live flight tracker’ platform. Meanwhile, ACARS is encrypted in transmit and the private property of the operator.
Today, FlightAware Global is tracking 200 airlines’ commercial aircraft and 15,000 business jets and streaming data via its Firehose datafeed. FlightAware’s data is also used for NAVBLUE’s N-Tracking software.
“The extent to which regulators have had to adapt to ICAO’s SARPs varies by region,” says Mark Duell, vice president at FlightAware. “In the US there was already flight following in place, so we’ve not witnessed a huge change to achieve 4D15 in recent years.
“For the rest of the world including Europe and Asia, over recent years we’ve seen a cultural shift,” Duell continues. “It’s gone from crew calling on arrival to a need for constant attention throughout a flight. Rather than taking for granted the ACARS message, the recency of a location update is almost more important than the location itself.” Adapting standard operating procedures (SOPs) to account for alternative procedures and building redundancies into systems to combat IT upgrades and power outages is also increasingly important for location reporting. “Operators need to show that they have the means and alternates to reliably report location in any events,” says Duell.
FlightAware’s GlobalBeacon was developed in part to address AT and 4D15 requirements. The only pre-requisite for hardware is the Mode S transponder. “The software can be utilised by small airlines without established IT resources, because it’s available as a standalone web-based product and therefore does not require complex integration,” explains Duell. 4D15 compliance – even one-minute reporting is therefore relatively inexpensive. Furthermore, the adoption of space ADS-B by well-known operators including Ryanair (an unapologetically low cost carrier) has instilled confidence in this method of global tracking.
For ADT requirements, Duell adds that if operators are using ADS-B to provide location reports every minute than they don’t need to change anything specifically for a distress situation. “If the operator is using Satcom for location reports however than they will need to deploy an alternative method, because legacy pricing renders 1 minute updates too expensive.” Because GADSS ADT is operator centric the carrier has to find an appropriate service, and is responsible for relaying information in distress situations.
As 2021 approaches, Duell observes some divergence between regulatory mandates and ICAO’s GADSS CONOPs. “The overall principle will be adopted, but leading regulators are forecasting 2023 for implementation,” he says. “EASA advises that OEMs feel 2021 is too soon. In part this is because historically, the operator doesn’t have an operational role in search and rescue. Subsequently most don’t have procedures for this. EASA has voiced that location data should therefore go from aircraft straight to the organisation that is doing the search and rescue in this event.”
EASA is the first major regulatory body to come out with guidance. “They are still specifying what operators need to achieve,” adds Duell. “That is, one-minute intervals will still be required for ADT, so that search and rescue can obtain position within six nautical miles. EASA is actually recommending a one second intervals for 200m proximity.” EASA has not incorporated any regulations yet regarding the DTR referenced in CONOPs; it remains to be seen to what extent this is adopted globally.
NAVBLUE is a subsidiary of Airbus, and formally launched its tracking solution ‘N-Tracking’ in August 2019. To date, 25 airlines use this browser-based global aircraft tracking solution.
N-Tracking was originally developed by Airbus and utilised ACARS position reports, before NAVBLUE incorporated the software into its portfolio. By reassessing data sources the new version of N-Tracking achieves overall GADSS compliance. Due to new partnerships with FlightAware, AirSense and Aireon, this tracking solution now leverages ADS-B (terrestrial and space-based), ASDE-X, multilateration ATC feeds, FAA and Eurocontrol data and ACARS position data to establish real-time and global position reports. “Via Aireon’s space-based ADS-B, customers can opt to subscribe to 1-minute reports,” says Paul Gibson, senior product manager at NAVBLUE, an Airbus Company. “Oceanic and polar regions can also be covered using ACARS if Iridium or other SATCOM is installed on the aircraft, but this can be costly. Moreover, narrowbody aircraft don’t tend to be satcom/ACARS equipped. A subscription based space-based ADS-B service is therefore ideal.”
AT and abnormal tracking requirements are met by N-Tracking: 15- and 1-minute reporting intervals. But what of the autonomous aspect to ADT? “Autonomous distress tracking requires auto activation,” says Gibson. “N-Tracking can autonomously trigger ADT when the aircraft deviates from operational parameters; this can be related to performance i.e. the aircraft deviates from its flight plan, flight level is too high, or it’s descending too fast. ADT can also be time-triggered; for instance if the aircraft doesn’t report location within the 15 minute time frame.” This trigger is facilitated by ACARS and can be configured to send an alert to airline’s operational control centre (OCC).
Determining the right GADSS ‘fit’ for each operator depends on operational network. “It’s difficult to define, say, how well terrestrial ADS-B coverage will perform for their tracking, because it’s hard to match to routes and coverage is constantly changing,” Gibson continues. He describes a recent customer that has started to install Iridium SATCOM on its narrowbody fleet. The aircraft were flying oceanic routes to Hawaii, and the operator had determined SATCOM as the best means to achieve consistent tracking. “After a trial to incorporate N-Tracking into operations the carrier now uses a blend of Iridium and Aireon subscription-based space ADS-B.” This provided a more cost-effective option.
Part of NAVBLUE’s customer trial involves using N-tracking without space ADS-B, and setting alerts that trigger when aircraft goes out of coverage. The customer can therefore determine if space-based coverage is required for certain fleets due to operations.
SKYTRAC Systems offers Flight Following and GADSS compliant software solutions. In addition, SKYTRAC’s parent company ACR Electronics produces ELT-DT’s under the ARTEX brand. SKYTRAC is primarily explored here. SKYTRAC can be installed across all fleet types and provides consistent position data globally. Today, the SKYTRAC hardware systems are installed on over 9000 aircraft and SKYTRAC’s software and server tracks over 14+M position reports monthly.
Stepin advises the various measures he sees operators adopting in order to meet normal AT, ADT and TRFD requirements.AT pertains mostly to software upgrades or changes. While no additional hardware needs to be purchased for new aircraft the operator may choose to enable a space-based ADS-B service.
“While the AT recommendation is for forward- and retro-fit aircraft, we have seen that most aviation authorities have adopted this and mandated it for 19+ PAX/45.5t aircraft flying in secondary surveillance airspace (such as Oceanic airspace),” he explains. “These authorities have also recommended it for 19+ PAX / 27t aircraft, in line with ICAO’s recommendation. This adoption has mainly caused operators to change internal procedures and policies on how aircraft were currently being tracked.
“Most airlines adopted methods for tracking their aircraft using as many possible existing systems onboard the aircraft, such as ACARS, ADS-B, ADS-C and other sources,” continues Stepin. “This data needed to flow into their operational control centre (OCC) software to bring fleet visibility.” Subsequently, most airlines have introduced tracking of their aircraft across the entire fleet, rather than only large 45.5t aircraft.”
Ultimately therefore, most operators can achieve the 4D15 recommendation by ICAO. “Many are opting for space-based ADS-B which provides 1-min position reporting,” adds Stepin. Because SKYTRAC aircraft tracking hardware offers configurable position reporting, operators can elect the frequency and add additional services such as voice & text communication, real-time operations, engine and airframe exceedance notifications.
However, many airlines are approaching SKYTRAC for installed aircraft tracking because the information is private; unlike terrestrial ADS-B which is largely public. ‘Our tracking data is secure, autonomous and maintains service for the entire duration of the flight because of Ni-Mh integral battery back-up,” says Stepin. “Also due to utilising Iridium satellites it is available from pole-to-pole. For ADT, it provides real-time alerts. Last, the operator owns the data so they can choose to make it available to third parties via secure API.”
To be ADT compliant, the aircraft will need to be delivered with equipment installed that will run autonomously under its own autonomous power source and autonomous Navigation and Data sources (for instance GPS). “This is so that it will independently transmit information from which a position can be determined by the operator at least once every minute, when in distress,” he adds.
For airlines wanting to voluntarily bring fleet commonality for ADT, then hardware installation is ultimately required to achieve desired autonomy. “For ADT capability hardly any operators are complying to ICAO Annex 6 – 6.18 and Appendix 9 recommendations as they see this as a forward fit requirement only,” says Stepin. “The reason being is that very few aviation authorities have adopted this into regulation yet. Instead there are recommendations out to move the effective date to 2023”
To achieve ADT, either the airline needs to decide to accept OEM specific solutions (where most are opting for ELT-DT (Distress Tracking ELTs)) which notify the Search and Rescue in the event of a distress. “Or they choose a lower cost option like SKYTRAC and retrofit their aircraft after their new purchase. The advantage is, they can install this on all their aircraft both forward-fit and retro-fit and have fleet commonality, and be able to receive the position reports directly to their OCC.
“The combination of an ADT system such as SKYTRAC using Iridium, and the ARTEX ELT-DT, ensures both operator and search and rescue get informed simultaneously.”
SITAONAIR has prepared airlines for global aircraft tracking requirements, via the deployment of its ground-based AIRCOM FlightTracker solution. The software guarantees regular flight position updates without requiring any new avionics or modifications, making implementation easy. The solution relies on conventional transmissions from ADS-B Out Mode S transponders, already fitted to most commercial aircraft. “As such, aircraft don’t need to be taken out of service (no cost implications) for maintenance and upgrades,” says Igor Dimnik, Director, Airline OCC and Crew Application Portfolio at SITAONAIR.
Today airlines, including Avianca Brazil, Azul, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Singapore Airlines and Vistara, already use AIRCOM FlightTracker, across more than 350,000 flights a month.
“Though a wide variety of technologies exist to track aircraft, they are not consistently integrated,” explains Dimnik. “AIRCOM FlightTracker focuses on connecting the air navigation service provider (ANSP) tracking, including real-time information about problematic weather and expected en route turbulence, among other route planning obstacles.”
AIRCOM FlightTracker aggregates inflight position data from myriad sources – including space-based ADS-B provided by FlightAware and Aireon using the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation – on a single aircraft position display.
“The availability of space-based ADS-B is a game-changer for airlines, and allow them to meet 4D15 and AT requirements,” says Dimnik. “With it, conventional transmissions from ADS-B Out transponders, already fitted to most commercial aircraft, are captured by receivers on new Iridium NEXT satellites, instead of ground based. Most significantly, these aircraft can be tracked from take-off to touchdown anywhere globally, including remote, oceanic or polar regions. The addition of space-based ADS-B means AIRCOM FlightTracker is also equipped to provide one-minute tracking, further enhancing operational awareness and control.”
Additionally, the Alert Module in AIRCOM FlightTracker tracks each flight automatically and generates a warning when an aircraft triggers certain defined conditions. “Alerts can be set up to suit the airline’s needs and to trigger various actions, including uplinks to the aircraft; also messaging actions can escalate as the severity of the condition changes and, in more critical cases, AIRCOM FlightTracker can automatically set up an ADS-C contract for FANS equipped aircraft to provide an additional 1 minute position reporting option for the remainder of the flight,” continues Diminik. All data transmitted in transit is encrypted between Iridium, Flight Aware and SITAONAIR.
In addition, airlines can trigger one-minute position reports from ADS-C using ADS-C contract requests, the same method that ANSPs use to track aircraft over respective control regions.
With the Space-based ADS-B option, AIRCOM FlightTracker is equipped to provide one-minute tracking with no additional communication charges. “Also, the airline does not need to have an Iridium contract because everything is undertaken by and handled through SITAONAIR,” adds Dimnik.
Today, there is an increase in requests for the space-based ADS-B option add-on to AIRCOM FlightTracker, in order to meet GADSS SARPs.
Regarding AT, ICAO indicates that today, most airlines are likely capable. “Operators just had to reconfigure systems to send more data at increased intervals,” adds Stepin. “While on the ground, software systems had the capability to include multiple data sources from various onboard systems, some having space-based ADS-B to enable one-min position reporting.”
For ADT however, a handful of Commercial Transport Category aircraft currently have systems installed which could meet requirement, but OEMs are working to develop viable solutions for standard fit on aircraft. Standards and reports (ARINC 680) have been finalized and regulations are soon to be released by EASA and other aviation authorities. SKYTRAC is experiencing airlines wanting fleet commonality and ease of maintainance.
2020 therefore will see final milestones and goals ahead of the final stages of GADSS becoming effective in 2021. ICAO advises that operators need to establish procedures for the tracking of aircraft (AT and ADT), to be ready to implement the solutions when they become available on newly delivered aircraft. One milestone is the development of the ‘Location of an Aircraft in Distress Repository’ (LADR), which is the DTR referred to earlier. This is a central repository for all distress tracking information, giving access to ATC, search and rescue and any organizations that require it.
The LADR allows operators to meet the Annex 6 Requirement to ‘make position information of a flight in distress available to the appropriate organizations, as established by the State of the Operator’. The LADR was put to tender by ICAO at the end of 2019, and ICAO indicates that a supplier has been selected. Initial prototyping will be completed by April 2020 and review of the functionality will be conducted, after which time the final production version will be developed for the end of 2020.