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ADS-B Tracking Implications

By Flightcell
ADS-B is being rolled out worldwide and it's providing greater situational awareness, traffic avoidance and improved ATC clearances. And with it comes accurate high frequency tracking.

So, does that mean your existing satellite or cellular tracking equipment may well be redundant? Or maybe it should no longer be on your shopping list? That could be the case if you are a weekend flyer, however we don’t believe that will be the case if you are involved with working aircraft. Especially military, government and first responders.

ADS-B provides frequent and accurate position reports and there are a host of online monitoring services;, and to name a few. In some countries, the service is bundled with information service broadcasts that include weather. Some of these services offer free basic tracking information, however others insist that businesses pay for premium plans, which range from $20 - $210/month. This monthly expenditure is comparable to traditional satellite and cellular tracking costs.

An important consideration for working aircraft is privacy. The ADS-B location information is not secure, it will be available to anyone with an internet connection and a web browser. Quality of service is also a concern. Low flying aircraft in remote and hilly/mountainous areas are unlikely to be served by commercial terrestrial stations. As a backup, there is satellite ADS-B, however it’s not an option for everyone. The FAA in the United States would like to see aircraft flying under 18,000 feet use 978MHz and this frequency does not have satellite coverage. In New Zealand satellite ADS-B is not supported at this time. There is also the cost to consider; if satellite ADS-B is supported in your country the cost is likely to be prohibitive for most organisations and businesses.

In recent years, specialist satellite tracking equipment and service providers have made advances in event reporting data. The reported information is comprehensive and it includes data such as take-off and landing, landing gear up/down, hover state, direction change, points of interest and data from external working equipment. A good example of external working equipment is firefighting buckets. The reporting of how much water is uplifted, where it is uplifted from, and subsequently where it is dropped. ADS-B tracking will not be able to provide this information. Likewise, when it comes to safety there is no emergency button to press and no satellite voice channel associated with it. Messaging, email, and data transfer is also out of the question.

To summarise; ADS-B is first and foremost a radar replacement and collision avoidance tool. It's not intended for operations that require tracking privacy and it doesn’t provide the specific events and comprehensive information that is required by most working aircraft. The terrestrial quality of service is not guaranteed and satellite ADS-B costs are prohibitive. ADS-B tracking is going to augment existing specialist satellite and cellular tracking equipment, however it won't be replacing it anytime soon.

Tracking Specifications & Features  DZMx Satellite
& Cellular Tracking
ADS-B Tracking
Accurate positions - within 10m radius Yes Yes
Position recorded <1 sec apart No (15 secs) Yes
Information service broadcasts No Yes
Privacy Yes No
100% terrestrial coverage Yes No
Guaranteed satellite service Yes Country dependent
Comprehensive events & data (change of direction, points of interest,
volume of water released, aircraft take-off/landing state, load weight, etc)
Yes No
History of events - stored and accessible Yes No
Emergency events - distress/alert status Yes No
Voice channel Yes No
Data channel (inc messaging & email) Yes No

Specialty Satellite & Cellular Tracking vs ADS-B Tracking