October 26, 2018
Aireon Update: Taking SATVOICE into the future
In January 2015, NAV CANADA identified high-performance satellite voice communications as a major technological step forward in the critical path toward the launch of space-based automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B). Underway is a project that will see a modern, efficient and user-friendly satellite voice communications system, called SATVOICE, implemented at all our area control centres (ACCs). The goal is to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities as a reliable communications system and safety tool, especially in remote and oceanic airspace.
“SATVOICE is an important safety tool for Operations.”
Across the global air navigation system (ANS), the most prevalent form of communication is now controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), essentially ‘text messages’ between aircraft and air traffic control (ATC). To provide an additional tool for direct voice communications, NAV CANADA is currently, NAV CANADA is currently developing an advanced new SATVOICE technology, in parallel with Aireon, that is game-changing and innovative in its own right. Once fully deployed it will provide key operational safety benefits.
“NAV CANADA is a pioneer in developing this technology,” says Danielle Desbiens, Program Manager, Communications Engineering, and the Engineering lead on this project. “We needed to find a way to improve our voice communications options between controllers and pilots during times when we have to contact an aircraft right away, or the aircraft needs to contact us. SATVOICE is an important safety tool for Operations.”
One member working on this project is Fred Cosgrove. “When Aireon was launched, it became a no-brainer to make SATVOICE a supporting tool for space-based ADS-B,” says Cosgrove. The Aireon project allowed us to realize ideas and concepts that we have been developing for some time. The big winners on this score, the ones in our ANS who are going to use this technology most often and get the most benefit, are our oceanic controllers in Gander and our controllers in Edmonton handling traffic in the North.”
“With this innovation, we save critical moments.”
Here’s what the project team set out to achieve: a SATVOICE system that not only enables controllers to contact pilots directly by satellite phone in an efficient way, but to take it to the next level and give pilots the same tool. “This is quite an innovative approach,” Desbiens points out. “Previously, a pilot could call ATC but they would reach a supervisor who would then have to locate the controller handling the plane, and then relay the message. With this innovation, we save critical moments. Controllers are sitting at their situational display, they get a call on their phone and it’s the pilot of a plane they’re handling. The pilot talks directly to the controller in a matter of seconds – that’s a major safety benefit when the message needs to be received promptly or urgently.”
Our SATVOICE solution makes using satellite voice communications much easier for controllers as well. They simply touch the aircraft’s tag on their display screen and a drop-down menu will appear. Then they select ‘SATVOICE’ and the communications process is initiated. “This is definitely going to make things more efficient,” notes Cosgrove. “SATVOICE is a key intervention tool, when you need to reach an aircraft, or they need to reach us.”
Mike Krahn, Manager of Air Traffic Control Requirements in the Edmonton flight information region (FIR), sees reliable and effective satellite voice communications as a crucial safety tool of the future, with space-based ADS-B an understandable catalyst in its development and deployment. “More and more, we’re flying in remote airspace,” he says, “and so we need tools that will enable us to reach aircraft in that airspace and talk directly to pilots. It’s another important tool for our controllers, and it becomes even more valuable during the times when atmospheric conditions make high frequency (HF) communications impossible.”
“We have been advocating for this technology and there has been a lot of interest around the world”
While developing SATVOICE capability at home, NAV CANADA is also involved on the international front, actively engaging its counterparts. “We have been advocating for this technology and there has been a lot of interest around the world,” says Shelley Bailey, International Coordination – Air Traffic Specialist. “We are working with the ICAO community to develop a Required Communications Performance standard that will prove that SATVOICE can be used to support our future needs, including the potential to be paired with space-based ADS-B. We’re pushing this technology to promote awareness about its functionality and benefits.”
The new system has been successfully deployed in Edmonton and Gander and will be used operationally once ATC training is completed. Ben Girard, the Vice President of Operational Support at NAV CANADA, acknowledges this as a critical milestone as the Edmonton and Gander FIRs will be the first to use space-based ADS-B when it goes operational. “With continued improvements made in this area and the already high equipage rate, SATVOICE could help reduce reliance on HF and offer relief to the Minimum Equipment List (MEL),” he adds.
Next steps include deployment to all other NAV CANADA ACCs by the end of 2019.