Aireon is a joint venture formed by a number of companies that will set up the world’s first satellite-based global aviation surveillance system in the coming years. Once the new system is operational as expected in 2018, it will be possible to collect data all over the world on all aircraft fitted with ADS-B equipment. The great majority of commercial aircraft already have this equipment, but at present less than 30 per cent of the area of the globe is covered by the existing surveillance equipment. 

There is currently no surveillance in the remaining – often remote – areas, so at present ATM is based on the pilots’ own radio reports on their position, altitude, course and speed. Factors such as long reporting intervals create such a level of uncertainty that controllers set very large separation distances between aircraft.

Aireon LLC is headquartered in Virginia, USA. Besides Naviair (with an expected 6% ownership interest in 2018), the other joint venture partners are the US telecommunications company Iridium Communications Inc and the ANSPs Nav Canada, NATS, ENAV and the Irish Aviation Authority.

The new system comprises 66 satellites and a further number of back-up satellites, which Iridium will be putting into orbit around the earth during the period 2016-2017. The system also includes a number of receiving stations positioned in various locations on earth and a new satellite control centre, which is being set up in Virginia.

Aireon’s business strategy is based on the sale of traffic surveillance data, mainly to the ANSPs but also to others, including airlines and flight handling companies. Aireon has already concluded provisional agreements on data sales to the US, Curaçao, the UK, South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand and other countries. Naviair is contributing actively to Aireon’s sale of services and the development of operational concepts that underpin Aireon’s business strategy.

Through its special service, Aireon ALERT, Aireon plans to supply the first global emergency surveillance service, whereby data on lost and missing aircraft will be made available free of charge to rescue services and other relevant services. This free service will considerably strengthen global preparedness for aircraft emergencies.

This improved surveillance will constitute a major advance for ATM. In addition to the safety benefits, the system will also provide an opportunity for the ANSPs to use airspace much more efficiently than today. This in turn will enable the airlines to save fuel and flying time and save the environment from considerable quantities of greenhouse gases.

In 2015, ITU (International Telecommunication Union) decided to extend protection of the frequency band used for ADS-B between aircraft and terrestrial equipment to include the frequency band between aircraft and satellite-based equipment. This means that Aireon can use satellite-
based ADS-B for global surveillance – both for ATM and to improve the chances of tracing missing aircraft in emergency situations.

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