NATS, the air traffic management organisation for the United Kingdom, has taken a 10% stake in Aireon, the air traffic and surveillance company that uses space-based ADS-B receivers aboard Iridium NEXT satellites.
Aireon and NATS made the announcement at a press conference today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Through a network of 66 low earth orbiting Iridium NEXT satellites, Aireon will monitor the location of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft flying anywhere in the world.
The service will offer global air traffic surveillance of aircraft. This means that oceans and remote regions like the poles, deserts and mountainous areas will have real-time aircraft surveillance for the first time.
NATS also confirmed it is currently consulting with its customers about introducing the satellite technology for use over the North Atlantic starting with operational trials from 2019.
Martin Rolfe, NATS Chief Executive Officer, said: “This is a transformational technology that will deliver the world’s first truly global air traffic control infrastructure, making flying even safer and more efficient.
“Investing in Aireon is the best way for us to shape the future of the service in a way that benefits our customers in the UK and elsewhere, and to demonstrate NATS’ commitment to playing a leading role in the development of the next generation of global air traffic technology.
“We’re currently consulting with our airline customers about how to best deploy this technology. The North Atlantic is the busiest area of oceanic airspace in the world and the gateway to Europe, but its routes have now reached their limit of capacity with existing technology, so we are delighted to now have a way to safely fulfil the ever-growing demand from our customers.
“What is additionally exciting is that this same technology will also deliver fuel savings and CO2 reductions that will directly benefit airlines and their customers.”
Don Thoma, Aireon Chief Executive Officer, added: “We are ecstatic to welcome NATS to the Aireon investor family. NATS was among the first air navigation service providers to see the benefits of space-based ADS-B, and now it only makes sense that they would become a more formal part of Aireon.
“The enhancements Aireon’s space-based ADS-B service will allow in the North Atlantic are a game changer for the aviation industry and will connect North America and Europe unlike ever before.”
Marc Courtois, Chair of the Board of Directors for both Aireon and NAV CANADA stated: “Adding NATS to our ownership group further confirms what the industry has largely already realised, that Aireon is on track to fundamentally improve flight safety worldwide.
“The technology is real, the system is already performing beyond expectations, there are just a few more launches to go, and we are eager to start seeing the improved benefits to the aviation industry and the flying public.”
The Aireon global air traffic surveillance and tracking system is getting closer to full deployment and currently features 39 active payloads receiving 9 billion aircraft position report messages per month.
Last year NATS controllers handled 500,000 flights through North Atlantic airspace, which is 80 per cent of all transatlantic traffic, and by 2030 industry estimates project that to grow to almost 800,000 flights.
Aireon says monitoring aircraft in real-time will also support the reduction of separation distances from around 40 nautical miles (nm) to just 15nm, in turn making the airspace more flexible and with predictable fuel and environmental benefits.
The investment in Aireon has been made by NATS (Services) Limited (NSL). It also comes one year after NSL became joint shareholders in the Canadian digital tower company, Searidge Technologies alongside NAV CANADA.