New air traffic control technology improving safety

28 May 2014

A new era in air traffic surveillance has been improving safety for aircraft operating in Australia’s airspace, particularly in remote areas not previously covered by radar.

A decade in the planning, Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) is a satellite-based technology enabling aircraft to be accurately tracked twice every second by air traffic controllers, and other pilots, without the need for conventional radar.

ADS-B increase safety and efficiency particularly in non-radar airspace. Air traffic controllers are now able to provide pilots with radar-like separations resulting in more aircraft being able to use preferred flight routes. The technology also offers improved access to flight levels with more efficient diversions around bad weather and restricted areas.

The aviation industry has strongly supported ADS-B with Australia’s major airlines and operators, including a number of international and regional airlines, embracing the new technology by investing in the installation of ADS-B equipment into their aircraft.

“The Royal Flying Doctor Service fully supports ADS-B and the benefits of using this technology,” said Michael Bleus, Chief Pilot RFDS WA Western Operation. “Patient care is of most importance to us and using ADS-B has assured that we are able to transfer patients to the destination hospital faster than before.

“ADS-B allows air traffic controllers to see us on their screens when we are in remote regions of northern Western Australia. It has made any off-track diversions a lot shorter and tracks to our destinations much more direct.

“We were one of the first aviation organisations in Australia to install and use ADS-B in our aircraft over eight years ago and we now have our fleet of 14 Pilatus PC-12 fully fitted.”

Over five month on since the mandated use of ADS-B, more than 97 per cent of domestic and international airline flights in Australian airspace above 29 000 feet (flight level 290) are being conducted with ADS-B surveillance.

More than half (66 per cent) of Australian registered corporate jet aircraft have now been fitted with ADS-B with about 60 aircraft on the register remaining to be fitted. Over 60 per cent of flights undertaken by business jets in Australia are being conducted using ADS-B.

Australia has a network of 61 ADS-B ground stations across Australia which provides continent-wide air traffic control surveillance. Over the next three years Airservices will install a further 15 ADS-B ground stations to provide additional surveillance coverage at lower altitudes and extend higher level coverage offshore.