Europe Is Struggling with Its ADS-B Mandate Too
By Stephen Pope
The European Commission is warning that airlines in Europe will not be ready for the EU’s ADS-B compliance date of June 7, 2020, but reiterated recently that the deadline will not change.
“The final implementation dates…stand and must be met,” wrote Henrik Hololei, the EC director general for the mobility and transport directorate, in a memo following a July 4 ADS-B workshop.
One of the reasons for the delay is a lack of harmonization among European states surrounding ADS-B ground station deployment as well as lingering questions about equipage plans for older aircraft that will need substantial upgrades. The European Commission has indicated it will consider allowing exemptions to the deadline while requiring airlines to provide compliance plans and expected compliance dates.
“These decisions are instrumental in helping accelerate the existing momentum, and I would urge all stakeholders to participate and contribute to the collective effort to bring about this important upgrade of the surveillance chains in the European ATM system,” Hololei wrote in the memo.
Only about 20 percent of European airliners have been equipped for ADS-B so far, leaving thousands of airplanes to receive equipment upgrades in the next two years.
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association released a statement saying it is “pleased the European Commission has confirmed the mandate for ADS-B implementation in Europe by June 2020,” adding “ADS-B is a valuable tool for pilots, improving the efficiency of their flights and enhancing safety, as well as ensuring their access to airspace.”
U.S. airlines appear mostly on track to meet the FAA’s January 1, 2020, ADS-B compliance deadline, although not all airplanes will be equipped on time. Exemptions will be permitted as the fleet inches toward full equipage.
In general aviation, the situation is direr as tens of thousands of airplanes have yet to receive equipment upgrades for ADS-B and avionics shops report their calendars are filling up fast.
Flight Tracking Industry Set To Evolve Rapidly
The flight-tracking industry is set not only to allow operators to meet ICAO’s deadlines for normal and distress tracking (the former is November 8 this year), but also to evolve rapidly to provide powerful new capabilities. The industry’s commercial prospects have been boosted by requirements mandated for aircraft operators by ICAO’s Global Aeronautical Distress & Safety System (GADSS) following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014.
A number of factors are combining to allow providers of flight-tracking services to offer new predictive flight-tracking capabilities that will give aircraft operators a range of commercially important benefits, according to Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware, a provider of flight-tracking data. Those benefits range from alerting operators automatically when aircraft behave unexpectedly in flight to improving flight efficiency and boosting operators’ resource-scheduling, gate-allocation, and flight-connection capabilities Additional new benefits will emerge over the next decade as operators’ flight- and resource-planning and flight-tracking automation platforms become increasingly integrated, Baker told AIN.
“We’re at a really interesting time in computer technology and computer science,” said Baker. “Until one or two years ago, the vast majority of the decision-making in HyperFeed [FlightAware’s flight-tracking data-analysis engine] was algorithmic,” he added. At that point, HyperFeed used approximately 1,000 separate software algorithms to process raw flight-plan and radar data from air traffic control systems in 55 countries. It also tapped FlightAware’s network of terrestrial ADS-B ground stations in 175 countries and more recently, space-based global ADS-B data feeds provided by Aireon. All these resources enabled the company to track aircraft in flight all over the world. However, virtually all of the processed data reflected the history of each flight: it provided little in the way of predictive capability.
“But now the state of technology has changed; we’re moving into machine learning, using artificial intelligence to leverage big data to predict the future world,” said Baker. “We’re fortunate that we’re at this point where a lot more data is out there, and a lot more technology is available to process and analyze it. So two things are converging.”
These two trends are dramatically changing FlightAware’s ability to predict the future behavior of a flight, particularly its ability to predict the elapsed time that key phases of the flight will require. These include the time it will take for an aircraft to negotiate the last 150 to 200 nm of a flight through congested terminal-area airspace. Further, because FlightAware can also now predict the pathway a given flight will take on an airport’s taxiways, it can predict the taxiing and ground holding time after landing, or—after it departs the gate—before takeoff.
“Five years ago, we could only predict to within five to 10 minutes the time it would take a given flight to travel through the terminal airspace surrounding a busy airport because variables such as ATC instructions and runway availability couldn’t be predicted accurately,” said Baker. “If, say, an airline had three flights due to arrive at the airport within a 15-minute period, it couldn’t make an informed decision to allocate specific gates for each flight, because it couldn’t know exactly when each would arrive.”
Now, however, he said FlightAware “can predict touchdown time to within 30 seconds” for an aircraft 200 nm from its destination and about to enter terminal airspace. The company is already offering the capability for about 100 airport terminal areas as an extra option through its Firehose programming API for customers. The software can process high-volume streams of aircraft positional data entering their automation systems. Through Firehose, FlightAware is also offering the optional ability for customers to track their aircraft while they are moving on the airfield surface.
Arming an airline with this knowledge—and the knowledge of how long the aircraft will take to taxi to the gate once it has landed—might not let the flight arrive any more quickly, but it will help the airline decide which gate to allocate and efficiently schedule vehicle drivers, aircraft-servicing crews, and ground agents meeting the flight, as well as flight crews positioning to operate the aircraft’s next mission. “It’s not always about changing the flightpath; it’s about having the information and what you can do about it,” said Baker.
FlightAware is partnering with Aireon to offer customers flight-tracking data from Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data feeds at least once a minute for any aircraft anywhere in the world, via a number of products, one of which is Firehose. Another is GlobalBeacon, the two companies’ joint turnkey web offering for smaller carriers—and also for bigger carriers that don’t have time to integrate a space-based ADS-B data feed into their existing automation platforms before the ICAO GADSS 15-minute normal tracking mandate goes into effect on November 8.
Airlines are now beta-testing GlobalBeacon, and it will enter commercial service by November, according to Baker. The one-minute updating frequency GlobalBeacon provides means that as of November the service will offer operators the tracking-message frequency that the GADSS one-minute autonomous distress tracking mandate will require them to have as of Jan. 1, 2021. However, by November, GlobalBeacon won’t necessarily meet all of the 2021 mandate’s autonomous-alerting requirements.
FlightAware has also long partnered with SITA on joint data products and, together with Aireon, FlightAware now is offering Aireon’s space-based ADS-B feed through SITA’s Flight Tracker service (for an extra fee over and above the basic Flight Tracker product). Many airlines use it as part of an integrated suite of operations-management capabilities built into SITA’s automation platform.
Baker predicts that, as operators increasingly choose to integrate data from flight-tracking specialists such as FlightAware into the suites of operations-management data tools provided by automation-platform providers such as Rockwell Collins and IBM (FlightAware also provides data for both of these companies’ flight-tracking products), flight-tracking services not only will become more available, but they will also offer operators powerful new decision-making capabilities. They will be able to do so when used in concert with other data tools managing functions such as crew rest, fueling, flight-planning, MRO planning, and passenger and cargo information.
“The way it’s going to work is that the platforms are going to bring FlightAware and its counterparts in the fueling and crew spaces [as well as others] altogether,” said Baker. “In the next 10 years, there will be integrated decision-making tools across everything the airline does. Airlines are going to make decisions about the platform and integration, which will be a rising tide for the platform.”
ADS-B Out Mandate Spurs Increasing Interest In ADS-B In
As airlines continue to equip their aircraft to meet the Jan. 1, 2020, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) “Out” mandate in the U.S. and June 7, 2020, deadline for most of Europe, interest appears to be growing to add ADS-B “In”—even in the absence of an FAA, International Civil Aviation Organization or European Aviation Safety Agency requirement. To appreciate this, it is a good idea to have some understanding of the two systems.
ADS-B Out equipage automatically broadcasts the position of the aircraft via satellite and ground stations to air traffic controllers. Essentially replacing outmoded radar systems, it gives the controllers a precise, real-time view of location, altitude and airspeed, allowing for more efficient flow control of a larger number of aircraft within a given airspace.
Adding ADS-B In would give pilots the ability to view, on a flight deck display, the presence of other nearby aircraft through receiving their precise ADS-B Out position information. The pilot can then input this information into applications such as CAVS (cockpit display of traffic information/assisted visual separation).
“ADS-B In gives pilots greater situational awareness,” says Terry Flaishans, president of Aviation Communication and Surveillance Systems (ACSS), an L3-Thales joint venture based in Phoenix. “Using GPS positioning data as to where traffic is located improves the accuracy of computing distances between aircraft, especially during a visual approach to an airport,” Flaishans says.
He notes that when using CAVS in conjunction with ADS-B In, pilots will be able to continue a visual approach, even if visual contact with the aircraft directly ahead is lost, thanks to the traffic information displayed onscreen.
American Airlines has selected the ADS-B In system for retrofit on its 219 Airbus A321s and forward fit on its 100 A321neos on order. It installed the prototype ADS-B In guidance display just to the center-left of the stack of larger displays above in an A330 simulator.
Those benefits are why some airlines are taking notice—and acting. In May, ACSS announced a deal with American Airlines to provide its Safe-Route ADS-B In suite for retrofit on American Airlines’ 219 Airbus A321s, along with installing the system on the carrier’s 100 A321neos on order.
Originally, Flaishans says, ACSS had certified SafeRoute on American’s A330s, under a supplemental type certificate (STC). However, this version was for retrofit only and designed for a Class 3 electronic flight bag application. The new version to be installed on American’s A321s and A321neos use existing flight deck displays, along with a unique ADS‑B In Guidance Display, which is sized to fit into any of the slots used by standby indicators for attitude, airspeed and altitude. The system is in the midst of the approval process by the FAA’s Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office; certification under a technical standards order is slated for year-end. An STC for installation is expected during the first quarter of 2019.
“We believe the availability of CAVS approaches will more than cover the cost of the [SafeRoute] equipment and installation,” says Ron Thomas, managing director of American’s flight department “In addition, we are working to define CAVS+ to increase the use of visual approach-like operations, and with ACSS and the FAA in an AIRS [ADS-B In Retrofit Spacing] Project to demonstrate interval management capabilities.”
According to Chuck Manberg, ACCS senior staff engineer for advanced development, the company is talking with other commercial operators for the potential application of Safe-Route on multiple platforms. “Our primary targets are the Airbus A319, A320, A321, A330 and the Boeing 737NG and MAX, but the solution is designed for most aircraft retrofit,” he says.
JetBlue Is In
New York-based JetBlue Airways also has opted for ADS-B In, having selected an airborne traffic situation awareness (ATSAW) solution, developed by Airbus. It is slated for forward fit on 85 A320/A321neos JetBlue has on order, with deliveries beginning in 2019. “It is an Airbus integrated ADS-B In solution, which works well with all of the existing interfaces and displays already on the aircraft,” says Chuck Cook, the airline’s general manager for communications, navigation, surveillance and technical programs.
Cook says ADS-B In will help JetBlue to “better its operational performance” in the heavily congested U.S. Northeast corridor, which extends from Washington north through Philadelphia, New York and Boston. “It is understood that as the Northeast Corridor goes, so goes the rest of the national airspace,” he remarks.
Shorter in-trail separation of aircraft is also cited as an ADS-B In benefit. “For example, if a pilot wants to cruise at a more fuel-efficient altitude, the information generated and displayed by ADS-B about traffic at that altitude will enable him to provide that to an air traffic controller,” Cook says.
As for retrofitting JetBlue’s fleet of A320s/A321s, as well as its Embraer jets, Cook says that “further implementation of ADS-B In” is under study.
“Before a business case can be made for fleet-wide retrofit, a number of factors must be considered,” he says. When the FAA approves the operational procedures available via ADS-B, then the airline will consider additional retrofits, Cook notes.
Optional or Standard?
At Boeing, the 787 has been the initial application of ADS-B In. Starting with Line No. (L/N) 369 of 787 production, all have been delivered with a Rockwell Collins integrated surveillance system (ISS) with receiver sensitivity that supports an ADS-B In option, available at either forward or retrofit. Of the 700 787s built as of May 1, more than one-third have ADS-B In. Of the last 340 built, about 50% have the ISS with ADS-B In capability.
The airframe OEM has made a retrofit kit available for ADS-B In under a service bulletin, according to Bill Richards, a technical fellow for avionics/air traffic management with Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “For all 787s, starting with L/N 369, little more than a software update to the ISS will be needed. However, before that number, replacement of the original ISS with the new ADS-B In-capable ISS will be required,” he says.
Boeing has offered the ADS-B In receiver and ADS-B In applications option on the 787 since November 2015 and planned to offer them on the 777X, which will enter service in 2020. Richards adds that a trade study is planned concerning an ADS-B In option for the 737 MAX.
Asked about the possibility of ADS‑B In as standard equipment, instead of an option, on all-new-build aircraft, Richards ventures that it “could be at some point in the future, due to its enhancement of situational awareness of the surrounding airspace.” At the same time, he points to interval management capability, giving air traffic controllers the ability to work with pilots to optimally space aircraft when on approach to the terminal area.
“Multiple aircraft could be spaced by a specific time or distance interval behind one another, eliminating the vectored approaches done today,” he says. “But this would require greater aircraft system complexity and a number of changes on the ground.”
Enhanced situational awareness is, at this time, the basic incentive for ADS‑B In, says Mike McDowell, technical marketing manager, communications, navigation and surveillance avionics-Commercial Systems for Rockwell Collins. “In the future, I expect that the selection of some ADS‑B In applications will be driven by the philosophy of ‘best equipped/best served,’” he notes. So an aircraft equipped with capabilities others do not have will be given priority handling at a busy airport at peak traffic times, he says.
The retrofit market for ADS‑B In has not been very strong because the situational awareness benefit is viewed as a “nice to have” feature, says McDowell. However, he stresses that when advanced features are available, and ADS-B In’s overall economic benefit is recognized, the retrofit market will expand. Forward fit, he adds, is a different story: “If the capability is available at an aircraft’s entry into service, the airline will be more likely to select ADS-B In, as is the case with the 787 and 777X.”
In that regard, Mark Lynch, head of engineering for aircraft leasing giant GECAS, cites very little demand for ADS-B In retrofits. “As it is not driven by a mandate, ADS-B In is not likely to be high on the list of requirements, which is typical for nonmandated upgrades,” he says.
Typically, strong (retrofit) demand only occurs within 2-3 years of a mandated deadline, says Lynch. However, early adopters risk installing solutions that may not meet the mandate when published, which requires a further retrofit, he cautions.
“Operators are therefore likely to wait until there is a clear mandate or a compelling economic argument for the embodiment, and then embody it as a fleet solution to all their aircraft, including those leased,” he says. “They may at that point be entitled to a contribution by the lessor, depending on the lease details.”
Swiss International Air Lines is among those carriers still uncertain about ADS-B In. For a Eurocontrol-sponsored ATSAW project in 2012‑14, the Zurich-based airline equipped three of its A330-300s with ADS-B In avionics. During the period, those airplanes operated more than 1,500 North Atlantic flights.
The main focus for Swiss was on “the improved situational awareness and the in-trail procedure [ITP] applications within North Atlantic airspace,” says Joerg Neubert, the airline’s head of projects and development for the flight operations engineering department. While both tests were successful and flight-crew feedback was positive, Neubert points out that changed separation standards and requirements on the North Atlantic routes—specifically longitudinal and lateral separation minimums, and performance-based communication and surveillance—have had a negative impact when it comes to ITP application.
“Swiss is closely monitoring the development of new ADS-B In applications, especially for the airport surface. A decision about the ADS-B In implementation on additional aircraft will be made at a later stage,” Neubert says.