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SBAS precision to support rural pilots

By on 30 April, 2018

The project will test the benefits of SBAS services for Australian aviation, focusing on remote areas with limited ground infrastructure.

Pilots provide a bounty of crucial services to remote rural communities — provision of critical supplies, urgent medical evacuation and support, postal duties, aerial surveys for environmental monitoring and land management, crop and livestock monitoring.

The isolation of these communities also makes for a hazardous set of working conditions for the pilots that serve them, with scant few of the operational luxuries afforded those flying into major airports in regional centres and major cities. Ground surveillance assets are hard to come by, there is no air traffic control support and navigation procedures are usually far less accurate in remote airports and airstrips.

A new project aims to make the lives of rural pilots easier and safer by filling this gap with the benefit of space-based infrastructure — namely the satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) industry testbed being led by Geoscience Australia, CRCSI and Airservices Australia.

SBAS equipment in the cockpit of a Seneca at a joint Geoscience Australia and Airservices Australia event held at Canberra Airport in March 2018.

Under the trial, aircraft of participating entities will be fitted out with necessary equipment to receive and interpret first and second-generation SBAS signals broadcast by space- and ground-based infrastructure under the SBAS trial, enabling the pilots to benefit from vastly improved location accuracy. This will be of particular benefit to those flying into regional airports under instrument flight rules (IFR), in which flight deck instruments are relied upon over visual reference.

Geoscience Australia’s SBAS project manager Dr. John Dawson said that SBAS-assisted aircraft approaches could be up to eight times safer than those that use ground-based navigation aids.

“This could mean a pilot can now attempt a landing without visuals down to 200 feet,” he said.

“The safety and efficiency benefits this technology provides will result in fewer flights being cancelled or diverted, and can also reduce the number of landing attempts flights may need to make during poor weather.”

The project has three core objectives in relation to assessing the benefits of SBAS services to Australian aviation:

Demonstrate the compatibility of the testbed with current generation avionics in an operational context

This test will utilise the L1 SBAS signal, and utilises modified avionics receivers from Garmin and Universal so that they can collect the SBAS L1 signal from the test bed. They are collecting data on the ground and are not fitted in aircraft for the purposes of testing in this project. This testing anticipated to be completed by mid-year.

Test the availability, accuracy, and coverage of the testbed signal from ground and airborne stations

This test will equip an aircraft with  SBAS equipment installed to collect data from the SBAS L1 and Dual Frequency Multi-Constellation (DFMC) SBAS as it flies around Australia. It utilises the SBAS L1 and L1/L5 signal and will not be used for operational purposes. This testing is expected to be completed in Q3 of 2018.

Assess the safety and efficiency benefits of SBAS to Australian aviation for a range of navigation and surveillance applications

An aircraft will perform some LPV demonstrations using the L1 SBAS signal at specific Australian airports, and this testing should be be completed mid-year.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan speaking at a Geoscience Australia and Airservices Australia event in March 2018.

A broad range of entities will be participating to carry out the tests with the CRCSI, ThinkSpatial and the University of Melbourne carrying out the data analysis for the test data collected from the ground aviation receiver testing and flight activities. CASA, Airservices Australia and Australian Strategic Air Traffic Management Group (ASTRA) will assist with the data required for the economics analysis, and Aeropearl, Garmin and Universal working with the testing aspects of the project.

Julia Mitchell, SBAS testbed program manager for CRCSI said that the Australian aviation project is one of the largest SBAS projects being run and will be able to conduct testing across a very large geographical area of Australia.

“It will be really exciting to see the results from this project as we’ll see what SBAS L1 performance in Northern Australia is like (where there is more ionospheric activity) and assess this against SBAS DFMC performance as well,” she said.

“The aviation community in both Australia and New Zealand can benefit greatly from SBAS and this project is a demonstrating clearly how SBAS can benefit this industry.”

Mitchell said that most small aircraft in Australia are already fitted with avionics that will allow them to fully utilise an SBAS system, once operational and certified. Many larger passenger aircraft, such as Boeing 737s, do not currently have avionics fitted that are SBAS capable, but there are plans for avionics in these aircraft to be optional purchases for operators in the future, with estimated availability in the early 2020s.

A Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) aircraft touches down at a rural airstrip. Image provided by RFDS.

Airservices Australia said that the increased accuracy would be of particular benefit to services like the Royal Flying Doctor Service, whose pilots need to undertake landings in varying weather conditions and at small, remote airfields and other locations where infrastructure and technology is limited. They will receive up to $310, 000 in funding from the Australian and New Zealand governments to carry out the trial.

The project is one of 28 being carried out across the SBAS testbed, representing ten industry sectors.

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