This company is building technology to track flights from space - Technical.ly DC

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May 18, 2018 12:23 pm

This company is building technology to track flights from space

Aireon, which received a $69 million investment from UK air traffic controller NATS, is looking to help monitor remote airspace and optimize busy routes.

Aireon wants to track flights from space.

(Photo by Flickr user Kuster and Wilhaber Photography, used under a Creative Commons license)

A McLean, Va. company that makes technology allowing planes to be monitored from satellites orbiting the Earth received an investment from the United Kingdom’s air-traffic control service.

At a press conference on Thursday, NATS announced a $69 million investment in Aireon. With the deal, NATS now owns about 10 percent equity in the seven-year-old company.

Aieron is building a system that will monitor aircraft through a network of 66 Iridium NEXT satellites. Five of those satellites are launching on May 22, and the constellation is planned to be completed through a series of 2018 launches. Once deployed, Aireon leaders said its technology will allow real-time location tracking of aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology.

“This is a transformational technology that will deliver the world’s first truly global air traffic control infrastructure, making flying even safer and more efficient,” Martin Rolfe, NATS CEO, said of Aireon’s system.

Aireon said the aircraft control system will allow for monitoring in all areas of the globe, including oceans, deserts and mountainous areas.

In busy airspaces, the company believes the new form of monitoring can allow for better flight paths to save fuel and time. Increased reporting on an aircraft’s location could also allow fewer miles of separation between planes, reducing the current standard of 40 nautical miles to 15.

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One such area is the North Atlantic, where NATS says routes are reaching capacity. Along with investing, NATS is looking to consult with airline customers about introducing the Aireon’s technology for operational trials next year. It would be a big introduction for Aireon, as NATS said its controllers handled 80 percent of transatlantic flights in 2017.

Last year, Aireon was among a trio of companies that signed a deal to track flights from space with Malaysia Air, which had a flight with 239 people aboard go missing in 2014.

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