NATS Buys Aireon Stake, Will Trial Satellite Tracking

May 16, 2018

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UK air traffic management service provider NATS has taken a 10 percent stake in satellite tracking technology company Aireon.

NATS will invest USD$69 million in the Virginia-based company that offers global air traffic surveillance of aircraft through a network of satellites.

The 66 low orbit Iridium satellites that Aireon uses will monitor aircraft equipped with ADS-B surveillance technology, allowing it to fill the gaps in flight monitoring due to the limitations of current radar technology. This is particularly valuable over ‘dark areas’ such as oceans and the poles.

The technology, if available at the time, may have helped in locating Malaysia Airlines MH370, which is believed to have strayed of course and crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. The aircraft has not been located despite months of searching.

NATS said the technology will provide safety and airspace capacity benefits, fuel savings and lower carbon emissions. It is seen as “the greatest revolution in air traffic management since the introduction of radar 70 years ago.”

NATS chief executive Martin Rolfe said “This is a transformational technology that will deliver the world’s first truly global air traffic control infrastructure.”

He said the investment demonstrates NATS’ commitment to playing a leading role in the development of the next generation of air traffic technology.

Aireon was no less effusive about the tie up, with the company’s chief executive Don Thoma saying they were “ecstatic” to welcome NATS to the family.

NATS said it will work with its airline customers on the deployment of the technology, particularly over the busy North Atlantic region, where the ATC provider plays a crucial role.

Operational trials of the new system will start in 2019.