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New Satellite System May Change Aviation

Technology: European airlines are testing tracking equipment that could cut flight times and fuel use.

May 01, 1996|From Reuters

Airline travel around the world could be revolutionized by a new satellite system that will cut flight times, save fuel and make planes easier to follow, aviation experts said Tuesday.

The new system, being given a trial run on 11 British, Dutch, French and German planes, could track aircraft with pinpoint accuracy, even when radar loses sight of them over deserts and oceans.

That means more planes could be safely put up in already crowded skies because the planes could fly closer together without endangering each other.

They would also be able to fly more direct routes, with the flight time from London to Tokyo, for example, being cut by an hour. There would no longer be a need to zigzag across the globe from one radar system to another.

"Air traffic controllers can, by use of the satellite and a ground earth station, see exactly where a plane is," said a spokesman for Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, leader of the European project.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance, or ADS, trials are being conducted from two ground stations: Bournemouth in southern England and Toulouse in southwestern France.

Planes from British Airways, Air France, the Dutch KLM and Germany's Lufthansa are being fitted with special equipment that can beam down via Inmarsat satellites their exact speed, position and intended flight path.

At present, a plane on a flight from London to Orlando, Fla., can be tracked by radar until it is 200 miles over the Atlantic.

Then, for safety's sake, planes are spaced 60 miles apart on their individual flight paths.

"That takes up a huge amount of airspace and you have to restrict the flow. With the new system, we can reduce the separation safely down to 30 miles," Jonathan Nicholson of the Civil Aviation Authority said. "It will also mean more direct routes over places like Russia, which would save fuel and time," he said. "At the moment when you go over Russia, you have to fly over airways so Russian authorities know where you are.

"The Russians cannot afford to put radar across the area," Nicholson said. "With ADS, you need just one ground station."

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