April 29, 2019

GPS-based ADS-B capabilities have brought improved situational awareness for air traffic controllers and pilots operating in the U.S. national airspace system (NAS) as well as other regions throughout the world. However, current ADS-B networks still rely upon ground-based relay stations for transmitting ADS-B data, limiting its use across remote landmasses and oceans where such advanced capabilities are needed most.

Plans are well underway to change that, however, with rapid advancement toward space-based ADS-B (SBA) coverage around the globe. Stating that SBA “holds promise as a global, seamless surveillance capability,” the FAA is working on a phased approach to address the technical, operational and safety issues of transitioning to a fully satellite-based ADS-B system.

“SBA may be the next step in the evolution of ADS-B, moving from the current system of ground stations to radios hosted on satellites, enabling surveillance across the entire globe,” the agency noted in a recent presentation to regulators and industry stakeholders, including NBAA.

Business aviation operators may soon realize ADS-B benefits in regions currently lacking in radar coverage, with the FAA identifying a near-term (1-3 year) goal of deploying SBA across Caribbean airspace. “In addition to demonstrating the technology, SBA could help alleviate existing operational constraints such as a lack of surveillance coverage around the Grand Turks,” said Heidi Williams, NBAA director for air traffic services & infrastructure.

The FAA aims to evaluate SBA in the NAS for use when existing surveillance services are interrupted, including emergency operations, within the next 3-5 years. Future SBA evaluation across North Atlantic (NAT) airspace is planned within the next decade.

“The agency realizes that improved surveillance alone won’t accomplish what’s needed in the NAT, and that automation and communications enhancements are also needed to ensure reliable position information,” Williams continued. “That said, the FAA has developed what looks to be a realistic road map to analyze the benefits of SBA and business aviation operators should be excited about the potential of this technology.”

Work is also underway to develop the necessary SBA support infrastructure. Earlier this year, Aireon and Thales announced an expanded partnership agreement to provide real-time, global SBA surveillance services through equipment onboard the recently-completed Iridium NEXT satellite constellation.

View NBAA’s online ADS-B information resource.