The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) Advisory Group in 2017 published a combined 27 areas of improvement criteria across aircraft systems, air traffic services (ATS) and search and rescue (SAR) system operations. These improvement criteria are designed to inform the global aviation industry and all of its various segments about ICAO’s latest available information about progress toward establishing GADSS, a concept of operations adopted by ICAO through collaboration with some of the world’s top avionics engineers, civil aviation regulators, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and other aviation stakeholders.
The main objective of GADSS is to achieve alignment of these stakeholders to prevent any future disappearance of aircraft from available surveillance — such as what occurred with the Malaysia Airlines MH370 incident in which a Boeing 777-200ER disappeared March 8, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, to China’s Beijing Capital International Airport.
Is it an Avionics Mandate?
First and foremost, ICAO does not establish and enforce flight information region (FIR) aircraft equipage requirements. This is a function of the ANSP or the civil aviation regulator, or a combination of the two within a given airspace, such as the FAA in the U.S., NATS and the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, Airservices Australia and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia, or Italy’s ENAV.
Stephen Creamer, director of ICAO’s air navigation bureau, explained it to Avionics in February 2016. Often in mainstream or other non-Avionics coverage, readers searching for information about GADSS will often see a reference to ICAO’s mandated equipage for “aircraft tracking” or other erroneous references to what GADSS is and what ICAO’s actual role is in helping to make it a reality.
What commercial operators need to know is the latest available equipage rules within the civilian airspace FIR in which they’re operating.
A perfect example is the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, which in August 2017 released Advisory Circular AC AOC-38(1), a nine-page document that provides information about standards, practices and procedures acceptable to CAAS as it pertains to aircraft avionics equipage and capability requirements that are mandated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, not ICAO.
According to section nine of AOC-38(1), the Singapore CAAS requires aircraft weighing more than 45,500 kg, or 27,000 to 45,000 kg with a passenger-seating capacity of more than 19, that the aircraft be tracked “while that aircraft is in flight, in the manner specified in paragraph 30A.2, except where the aeroplane’s position is able to be tracked by an ATS unit that is responsible for providing air traffic service for the aeroplane at the relevant time at least once every 15 minutes.” The circular says that as of Nov. 8, 2018, aircraft-tracking capability should make use of automated reporting and “shall not make use of voice reporting through High Frequency (HF) radio” — a mandate regulated and mandated by CAAS, not ICAO.
Airline Avionics Equipage and ANSPs
Two of the key players within the aviation industry’s ability to establish the concept of operations introduced by ICAO as GADSS are airlines and air charters with large fleets of aircraft capable of flying across long stretches of oceanic airspace and polar regions where existing surveillance is adequate, but not 100% of every inch of available airspace.
Airlines facing equipage mandates in FIRs in which they fly are already in the process of equipping with new hardware to enable compliance with GADSS-aligned regulation required by civil aviation regulators. South African Airways, for example, is working with Satellite Authorization Systems, a Johannesburg-based company that became a provider of aircraft-tracking equipment by chance.
In 2014, SatAuth was in the middle of testing a communications platform capable of doing secure, real-time airborne banking and credit card transactions on South African Airways aircraft. “During our testing phase, MH370 disappeared,” said Paul Roux, managing director at SatAuth. After the MH370 incident, Roux said that his team started evaluating their equipment as a way to provide flight tracking.
“We bolt on an embedded server, fully certified from a DO-160G airborne and radio equipment, as well as EASA certified full usage onboard widebody commercial aircraft. We don’t modify any of the avionics. We have an independent antenna that sits on top of the aircraft, both capacity to look after GPS as well as comms into Iridium, and that is a fully certified installation from an STC perspective,” said Roux.
The SatAuth solution also features an onboard accelerometer, which has the ability to tell an aircraft flying position and then some substantial algorithms to determine attitude, altitude, angle of attack, descent and rate of climb, among other flight-positioning and aircraft-behavior criteria. “Based on testing we’ve done on the Airbus A340, we created a set of parameters that determine whether the aircraft is in a state of distress, which then we send to the ground independently of the flight deck through the Iridium network, which the aviation industry itself, ICAO, IATA and others would have access to on an ongoing basis,” said Roux, noting that the company’s solution is cloud-based, server-based and can be reconfigured for other aircraft types. So far, it has tested 50,000 transmissions of its solutions around the globe. In 2017, it obtained a modification approval certificate to install on widebody commercial aircraft from the South African Civil Aviation Authority.
In South Korea, the Korean Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA) also has enacted new position reporting requirements. Its biggest local carrier, Korean Air, is installing Avionica’s satLINK MAX Iridium satellite communications system to comply with the requirements. On the 737 MAX, the system can provide two flight deck air traffic services safety voice channels. One channel can provide aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) FANS-1/A(+) capability, and the additional channel can be used for cabin communications or dedicated datalinks.
Malaysia Airlines is also taking strides to avoid a future incident like MH370 by becoming the first airline to adopt SITAONAIR’s Aircom Flight Tracker. SITAONAIR describes Aircom as a ground-based software system requiring no aircraft avionics modification, as it is capable of gathering data from nearly every available air traffic surveillance source and medium including ADS-B, ACARS, ATC Radar and FANS. When the network is complete, Aireon’s space-based ADS-B network data will also be added to Aircom.
“We make data available to our partners FlightAware and SITAONAIR, and they embed it into their existing applications with airlines and through that means we offer airlines a way to comply with tracking mandates,” said Cyriel Kronenburg, VP of aviation services at Aireon.
“This is really for long-haul operations, oceanic operations,” he said. “That’s where a lot of airlines will face a choice, and we’re trying to help them as much as we can in providing the data early on so they can be ready when the mandate kicks in.”
Airbus A350 XWB operators will soon have access to a fixed crash-protected cockpit voice and data recorder (CVDR), capable of recording up to 25 hours of voice and flight data on a single recorder, and an automatic deployable flight recorder (ADFR). The ADFR was developed in a collaboration with L3 Technologies and DRS Leonardo.
According to Airbus, the new CVDR answers EASA’s new requirement to extend the duration of voice recording to 25 hours, up from the current two-hour requirement.
The new ADFR also adds a new capability to airliners, as it can be deployed automatically in case of significant structural deformation or water submersion. ADFR is designed to float and features a crash-protected memory module containing up to 25 hours of recorded cockpit voice and flight data. This is designed to be equipped with an integrated emergency locator transmitter to help search and rescue teams locate and recover them.
Both of the new recorders become available for the Airbus A350 XWB in 2019 initially, and subsequently for other aircraft models.
Deployable recorders are also available from Cassidian, and commercial GPS tracking solutions are available from Spidertracks, Guardian, BlueSky Network and SkyTrac, among others.
In September 2017, Eurocontrol published a short summary offering an overview of “a significant series of avionics requirements and their applicability to both civil and state aircraft.” Among these was a requirement related to the GADSS concept of operations, which Eurocontrol describes as a proposal for aircraft weighting more than 59,000 lbs to be equipped with a suitable electronic flight data recorder or quick access recorder “where flight data can be regularly replayed for purposes of crew monitoring.” The status of that requirement is currently awaiting EASA adoption, according to Eurocontrol. AVS