Wings Magazine

New upgrade leads to safer flight, fuel savings

June 6, 2011, Ottawa - NAV CANADA Air Traffic Controllers who direct aircraft as they transit across the North Atlantic - the busiest oceanic airspace in the world - are now employing an enhanced system that makes oceanic flight safer and more efficient.

June 6, 2011  By Carey Fredericks

The technology upgrade, along with a new initiative to improve the efficiency of operations in oceanic airspace, will lead to significant airline cost savings through reduced fuel burn, with accompanying reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology behind the improvements is known as the Gander Automated Air Traffic System Plus (GAATS+). The controllers using this technology are based in the Gander Area Control Centre in Gander, Newfoundland.

"Our Oceanic Air Traffic Controllers have a global reputation for excellence in the provision of air traffic services in the North Atlantic, handling well over 1000 flights a day crossing the ocean in both directions," said John Crichton, NAV CANADA President & CEO. "With GAATS+, they now have the world's most advanced oceanic air traffic system.

"GAATS+ will allow better flow planning and a clearer picture of traffic at any moment, despite the absence of radar in this airspace," Crichton said. "This, in turn, will allow us to implement procedures that increase capacity while maintaining safety in collaboration with our Oceanic partner, NATS in Prestwick, Scotland."


In March, NAV CANADA and NATS implemented an important procedural change known as Reduced Longitudinal Separation Minima (RLongSM). This allows properly equipped aircraft to fly on tracks across the Atlantic with a separation of five minutes, versus the traditional 10 minutes for non-radar airspace.

RLongSM requires aircraft to be equipped with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Contract (ADS-C) and Controller-Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC). ADS-C equipped aircraft automatically provide position reports, which are fed to controller displays through the GAATS+ system. CPDLC allows controllers and pilots to communicate through short text-based messages.

Along with other procedural improvements, this will allow more aircraft to access optimal altitudes. The expected result is an estimated $1 million in customer fuel savings in the first year, along with 3,000 metric tons of emissions savings.

GAATS+ provides significant enhancements to the original GAATS system, including electronic flight strips. Electronic strips make it easier to track and transfer responsibility for an aircraft between controller positions as the aircraft flies through sectors while automated updates mean less manual inputting of information.

GAATS+ also features increased automation of data exchange with other air traffic facilities and integrates a series of automation tools such as conflict prediction and data link communication for position reports. (For more information, read the backgrounder).

The GAATS+ system also provides controllers with a snapshot of current and planned traffic as well as available conflict-free route profiles, allowing the controller to easily identify an aircraft's preferred route and provide a clearance.

GAATS+ provides surveillance capabilities through the integration of radar feeds from Canada's North Warning System in the North East Coast of Canada and will allow future integration of surveillance capability currently being expanded through Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) over southern Greenland.

This will bring additional coverage in airspace that previously operated solely under procedural control. The additional surveillance capability will support a further reduction in separation required between aircraft from five minutes to five nautical miles in portions of the North Atlantic, leading to further fuel and GHG emissions savings.


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