In an interview with Flightit.net, Mary McMillan, Inmarsat's Vice President, Aviation Safety and Operational Services talks about the company's various satellite safety and aircraft tracking solutions, including Inmarsat's newly launched SwiftBroadband Safety services, Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Contract (ADS-C) capabilities and the recent partnering with Australian Aviation Industry to adopt ICAO's 15-minute tracking initiative.
Q : Could you give an overview of the company’s products and a brief background?
Mary McMillan :
Inmarsat is the leading mobile satellite communications company. Our satellite services enable users to make phone calls, access the internet, upload, download or stream video from virtually anywhere in the world – whether in the air, on land or at sea.
Inmarsat has been providing connectivity and safety services to the aviation community for over 20 years. Today, our services are being used on more than 11,000 aircraft, supporting applications ranging from passenger WiFi, GSM and TV content to critical safety and operational information for the flight crew.
Our satellite services are developed to meet a range of airline and aircraft user needs, for Business Aviation, Commercial Air Transport and Safety Services.
Inmarsat SwiftBroadband is today’s leading aviation satellite broadband communication platform. It is the only network that enables worldwide inflight Wi-Fi and GSM services for the global business and government aviation industry. It provides simultaneous voice and IP-based package switched services of up to 432 kbps as standard, using Inmarsat’s constellation of L-band I-4 satellites, and will continue to play a vital role in many years to come. SwiftBroadband is also expected to be approved for FANS (Future Air Navigation System) and ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) safety services in 2016.
Swift 64 provides a range of in-flight data applications for the cockpit and passengers.As well as high-quality voice communications, Swift 64 delivers circuit-switched Mobile ISDN data for guaranteed speed and our MPDS(Mobile Packet Data Service) for the economy and flexibility of an 'always-on' data connection.
With GX Aviation, Inmarsat continues to lead the way in consistent, high-speed global coverage for the aviation community. The GX Aviation services are scheduled to be globally available early in the second half of2015, delivering the quality of service on which Inmarsat customers rely.
The network will be complementedwith an integrated service specifically targeted at the European Aviation market. It will combine MSS (Mobile Satellite Service) and ACGC (Aviation Complementary Ground Component) to offer the highest levels of quality. Inmarsat is intending to launch the satellite component at the end of 2016.
Q : What are the various satellite safety and aircraft tracking solutions offered by your company? Please give an overview on a new SwiftBroadband Safety services.
Mary McMillan :
Inmarsat currently supports voice and data safety services to aircraft that are equipped with Classic Aero avionics. The Classic Aero service supports both Air Traffic Management (ATM) Safety services and Airline Operational Communications (AOC) services, and is made available over the Inmarsat I-3 and I-4 satellite constellations using Inmarsat’s ground networks and infrastructure, via Inmarsat’s Classic AeroDistribution Partners, ARINC and SITA. Classic Aero is the current standard for oceanic satcom communications for aircraft operations, and is used by over 11,000 aircraft worldwide. It supports FANS operations that are used routinely in large portions of the oceanic airspace.
Satcom data link services enhance ATM surveillance and intervention capabilities and are therefore seen as instrumental to assist in meeting the Target Level of Safety in oceanic airspace.
The FANS ADS-C application provides air traffic controllers with a surveillance picture of their airspace, and is used for conformance monitoring of an aircraft’s position in the vertical and horizontal plane, allowing for reduced separation between aircraft, which contributes towards more efficient flight routing and consequently shorter flight times and fuel savings.By understanding where an aircraft is in near real-time, the use of ADS-C can also enhance safety in the oceanic environment. ADS-C can be used to report the position of the aircraft in near real-time, at predefined intervals. This means in the event of an accident, the search area for the aircraft can be greatly reduced. Therefore, the use of FANS ADS-C canfacilitate search and rescue operations.
The FANS CPDLC (Controller/Pilot Data Link Communication) data link application enables pilots to make requests (e.g. optimised altitudes or routes to avoid weather or to improve flight efficiency) but also permits controller intervention, at any time, in the event that aircraft begin to stray from the track shown in their flight plan.
SwiftBroadband Safety supports all Air Traffic Management Functions that Classic Aero supports today, including FANS ADS-C and CPDLC and AOC messaging. It provides a prioritised IP link to the flight deck, and supports regular automatic transmission of position reporting and flight performance data from all equipped aircraft.
Q : Who are your potential/current customers using new SwiftBroadband Safety services?
Mary McMillan :
To facilitate current flight tracking capabilities, Inmarsat is upgrading and investing in its SwiftBroadband Safety satellite network.
It will enable additional aircraft and cockpit services, such as enhanced weather and turbulence reporting, and support near real-time, enhanced aircraft position reporting and tracking using frequent ADS-C position reporting.
Potential customers include the 90% of wide-body aircraft already equipped with Inmarsat’s Classic Aero that are looking for an optimised system, and all other aircraft concerned with passenger safety.The upgrade is scheduled to be available during 2016.
Q : What is your take on a 15-minute tracking initiatives introduced by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)?
Mary McMillan :
Inmarsat welcomes and supports ICAO’s recommendations to enhance aviation safety. Inmarsat has been powering aviation safety since the introduction of oceanic surveillance and communications services in the early 1990s. Safety is our heritage and our future. Our focus is to work with all aviation partners to develop reliable safety services and effective operational practices.
ICAO wants to see flight tracking implemented as quickly as possible as part of the proposed Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS). Inmarsat has actively pursued the potential use of available Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Contract (ADS-C) capabilities on board aircraft that support flight tracking activities. Inmarsat is looking forward to working with ICAO, member states, airlines and all air navigation stakeholders leading to an expedited implementation of the GADSS concept.
To that end, we recently announced that we are working with AirservicesAustralia and several airlines and governments on a trial of ADS-C to provide this service.
Q : Please elaborate on Inmarsat’s Automatic Dependant Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C) technology. How do you think will this technology help make flight tracking better?
Mary McMillan :
Space-based ADS-C is an existing and reliable position reporting and aircraft tracking technology installed on most oceanic commercial transport aircraft. It is an available solution that can readily meet the standards and timeframes proposed by ICAO. Today, Inmarsat’s technology supports flight tracking through FANS ADS-C, over our Classic Aero satcom equipment. The service can cover normal, abnormal and distress conditions. ADS-C position reporting rates can be adjusted to any prescribed time period, depending on the desired separation standard. This is not only important for operational safety, but is essential for delivering efficient routing using reduced separation standards. Importantly, ADS-C has inbuilt conformance monitoring that automatically alerts air traffic control personnel to any unauthorised altitude change or flight track deviation. The alerting and flight change reporting rates are conditions set up in the contract and are managed independent of the flight crew.
Inmarsat is extremely proud of itssafety contribution to aviation over the last twodecades and continues to focus its efforts to improve global aircraft tracking. We are investing heavily in future enhancements (SwiftBroadband Safety and Global Xpress) which will provide near real-time flight tracking capability and efficient management of airspace. We believe we have an obligation to make a difference to global aviation safety.
Q : What are the challenges/limitations abound to the aircraft tracking solutions?
Mary McMillan :
Inmarsat is offering a ‘ready to go’ solution to track aircraft, via ADS-C. The vast majority of transoceanic aircraft are already equipped to be able to be tracked today. The industry is now working together to implement the systems that can receive and manage this information and we are working with our partners to ensure it is available to airline customers.
Q : Are you currently pursuing any contracts abroad?
Mary McMillan :
Inmarsat is working with industry partners, Airservices Australia, Qantas and Virgin Australia in developing the operational concept for the trial, using Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Contract (ADS-C) satellite technology in Australia’s oceanic regions.
Airservices Australia is the first Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) to trial the ICAO standard, utilising Inmarsat’s global flight tracking ADS-C messaging service. ADS-C provides air traffic controllers with a constantly updated surveillance picture of their airspace, thereby allowing safe and efficient oceanic operations. It is also very useful for airlines as they can use this information to increase the efficiency of their flight operations.
11,000 commercial passenger aircraft are already equipped with an Inmarsat satellite connection, representing over 90% of the world’s long haul commercial fleet. Airlines participating in the trial include Qantas and Virgin Australia.