New technology tracks polar flight route

by Canadian Shipper

NAV CANADA, using the company’s Future Air Navigation System technology, has tracked an aircraft from the Canadian-US border to 84 degrees north and then again in Russian airspace. <br>
NAV CANADA engineers monitored Continental Airlines’ first direct, nonstop service between Newark, New Jersey and Hong Kong, on March 1, 2001. The flight, COA 99, followed Polar Route 2, which reaches within 64 nautical miles of the North Pole. The FANS technology is currently being tested and targeted for introduction into the trans-Atlantic and northern airspace air traffic control systems. The technology is geared to improving safety and service for non-radar environments.<br>
FANS includes two key components: Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) provides direct communication in areas where line-of-sight communication is not possible. This is similar to sending email between the controller and the pilot. And Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS) permits surveillance of aircraft that are beyond line-of-sight range of radar systems, without the need for pilot interaction.<br>
“Our successful tracking of the Continental Airlines Polar Route flight highlights NAV CANADA’s position at the forefront of a new era in digital communications. This combination of technologies will provide air traffic controllers with significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness over the current system, which uses High Frequency radio. The technology will also help us to control large amounts of airspace more safely and effectively, particularly in trans-oceanic areas and Canada’s Far North,” said Sid Koslow, NAV CANADA’s vice president, engineering. <br>
During the March 1 Continental flight, CPDLC communications took place between the aircraft and NAV CANADA’s Technical Systems Centre (TSC) in Ottawa. The ADS connection with the aircraft was interrupted while it was flying over the pole, due to the lack of satellite coverage in the far North. Future implementation of air/ground data communications technology will help provide the necessary coverage for this area. <br>

In air traffic control areas not covered by radar, pilots are required to provide position reports according to assigned route fixes. For example, over the North Atlantic, aircraft report their position at every 10 degrees of longitude. The Gander Automated Air Traffic System then compares this update to the flight plan, and checks for any discrepancies.

Communications in oceanic and remote northern areas has been performed using HF radio, the quality of which is often poor. Seventy per cent of air traffic control communication for the North Atlantic consists of position reports. The introduction of ADS in this area is reducing the reliance on HF communication. And CPDLC will reduce the remaining portion of routine HF communication. Currently, 18% of the 1,000 aircraft flying the North Atlantic each day are equipped for ADS and CPDLC.

North Atlantic trials of fundamental ADS capabilities began on 15 July 1999 with eight airlines participating. ADS Waypoint Positioning Reporting went into full operation in the Gander and Shanwick oceanic control areas on January 29, 2001. This means that aircraft using ADS are no longer required to provide their position updates using voice communications.

NAV CANADA is working with the UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) to investigate the practicalities of deploying CPDLC technology in the Shanwick (Eastern Atlantic) Oceanic Control Area. The first UK CPDLC contact was established with Continental COA99 on March 6.

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