Commercial ADS-B Networks

By Flightcell

Around the world, the ADS-B mandate is becoming ever-clearer: if you’re flying anything larger than the smallest and simplest aircraft, you must install it. As with any innovation driven by new regulations, the introduction of ADS-B is changing the rules of the game offering heightened awareness of fleet movements. It includes frequent GPS positions, speed and altitude, on a public radio frequency. 

These transmissions are picked up by a network of ADS-B receivers that have decentralised ownership and management. All the data is freely available. Flight tracking services then collate the public data into something usable by various customers. It is a robust and reliable system with a lot of redundancy. 

Asset tracking is important for all fleets, but especially if operations revolve around aeromedical, oil and gas and search and rescue. In other words, they matter most if at least some of the fleet is rotary wing and operating in remote airspace. Meaning traditional ADS-B has shortcomings for those who need it. The drawbacks for operators are:

 1.  Most ADS-B data is gathered by a decentralised network of public receivers. This largely means there is coverage only if there is a public reason to have a receiver. Often, this rules out offshore and remote operations.

2.  The public ADS-B network offers little privacy or security for operators who would rather their aircraft movements not be public knowledge.

3.  It can have altitude limitations for aircraft flying at low altitude, this is due to the angle of ADS-B ground-based transmission.

4.  ADS-B data is position orientated and it does not include aircraft and operational event data.

Private ADS-B resolves the first two drawbacks, however having your own network usually meant installing your own receivers and managing the data.

Over the past few years, a few companies around the world have been installing commercial ADS-B networks for individual customers. Often, these networks are simply one or two commercial ADS-B receivers to cover a gap in the existing public network.

A classic example is when a helicopter flies from a regional airport to a resources hub and leaves publicly monitored airspace along its route.

SkyNet Systems in Queensland, Australia has built its own comprehensive commercial ADS-B network and provide a secure service for operators in that part of the world.

High resolution 1-second private ADS-B tracking is the go-to service, and with the right equipment installed in the aircraft (e.g. Flightcell DZMx), there are two fallback options for assured coverage:

1.    tracking using cellular data with positions every 15-seconds when out of range of private ADS-B.

2.    tracking using Iridium satellite with positions every 1 or 2 minutes when out of range of cellular or private ADS-B

Switching between these options is automatic and the best quality and least-cost service is always available to the end user.

This combination of quality equipment and quality service adds aircraft and operational event data from sensor inputs, pilot and crew inputs and onboard third-party equipment. This is critical information for most helicopter operations.

This raises the question, are commercial ADS-B networks, combined with traditional tracking technologies the future of automated flight following?

UPCOMING: For those of you with Flightcell DZMx, or considering it, watch this space for information on an extremely cost-effective ADS-B In option!