The FAA next year will begin a phased evaluation of satellite-aided surveillance of aircraft flying over oceanic spaces, including use of the Aireon space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system scheduled to begin operating in 2019.

Speaking at the Air Traffic Control Association annual meeting Oct. 1, acting FAA administrator Dan Elwell said the agency “is working toward a funding decision” that would supplement ground-based ADS-B in the US with satellite-based surveillance over oceans. This likely would involve subscribing to Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system, which is nearing completion with the placement of Iridium Next satellites carrying receiver payloads.

Sixty of 66 planned operational Iridium Next satellites are now in orbit, with the final batch scheduled for launch by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December. Once completed by early next year, Aireon’s network will provide the position of ADS-B-equipped aircraft every 8 sec. in oceanic and remote areas outside of radar coverage, where controllers now apply procedural separations.

The FAA recently briefed groups—including trade organization Airlines for America and Aireon—on its plans to begin evaluating space-based ADS-B in the Caribbean region next year, with aircraft tracked from the agency’s Miami oceanic control center.

“They have actually made a decision on a path going forward. It’s a phased approach to evaluating and implementing real-time surveillance in the ocean, and a major piece of that is space-based ADS-B,” Aireon CEO Don Thoma told ATW’s sister publication Aviation Daily.

Second-phase plans call for integrating space-based ADS-B in the FAA’s Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures automation system used at the agency’s Oakland, California, and New York oceanic control centers. The third phase is to involve operational testing of the system by airlines in the oceanic environment.

Aireon, the joint venture of Iridium Communications, NAV Canada and other partners, has negotiated long-term data-service agreements with air navigation service providers worldwide to provide aircraft surveillance data. The FAA would have to enter into such an agreement for space-based surveillance, which would complement the ground-based ADS-B system it has installed in the US. All aircraft flying in certain airspace in the US must be equipped for ADS-B by 2020.

“Obviously, the FAA would need to look at how any new technology impacts the service provision that we have today, but I think space-based ADS-B is a natural evolution of the technology developments that we’ve seen over the decades,” Elwell said. “I think it’s going to be the wave of air traffic control in the future.”

Bill Carey, bill.carey@aviationweek.com