NATS, the leading provider of air traffic services and solutions in the United Kingdom, received the 2011 Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) Earl F. Ward Memorial Award for their deployment of defense and security company Saab AB subsidiary Saab Sensis Corporation’s Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) in the North Sea. Presented at the annual ATCA conference, the Ward Award is “presented to a group for an outstanding achievement during the previous year, which has added to the quality, safety or efficiency of air traffic control.” The North Sea WAM system enhances the safety of air traffic serving off-shore oil and gas platforms by providing surveillance coverage in a challenging, remote environment that previously did not have complete radar coverage.
More than 25,000 helicopter flights carry a half million passengers annually between Aberdeen Airport and the oil and gas operations in the North Sea through airspace that is inaccessible to shore-based radars. Low-level radar coverage only extends 80 miles off-shore, forcing controllers to rely on pilot’s positional radio updates every 10 minutes. Deploying traditional radar was not an effective or economical solution due to performance limitations at low flight levels and overall costs. To close this gap in surveillance, NATS chose Saab Sensis WAM to cover 25,000 square miles of the North Sea, using multilateration sensors placed on 16 oil platforms, including a floating platform with positional changes of up to 100 meters. In December 2010, the system became the first operational, certified WAM deployment for air traffic control of off-shore helicopter traffic.
“The North Sea WAM system is a significant achievement in the advancement of flight safety by enabling traditional radar-like traffic services and precise flight location in the event of a search and rescue operation in a challenging area that was previously without comprehensive radar coverage,” said Paul Reid, managing director, NATS Services. “The NATS and Saab Sensis teams designed an innovative ATM solution tailored for a complex offshore environment. We are honoured to receive this prestigious award from ATCA recognizing the importance of off-shore helicopter flight safety.”
Saab Sensis multilateration uses multiple low-maintenance, non-rotating sensors to triangulate aircraft locations based on transponder signals to provide air traffic controllers with precise aircraft position and identification information regardless of weather conditions. With a higher update rate and greater positional accuracy than traditional radar, Saab Sensis multilateration provides effective surveillance for increased safety, capacity and efficiency of airspace. By employing advanced processing techniques, a Saab Sensis multilateration system uses the minimal number of sensors for a less complex, lower lifecycle cost solution. Additionally, each multilateration sensor deployed by Saab Sensis supports Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B), providing an infrastructure that is ready for today’s surveillance needs and tomorrow’s avionics.
“The ATCA Award further validates the use of WAM as an effective solution for the enhancement of flight safety in a challenging off-shore environment,” said Ken Kaminski, vice president and general manager of Saab Sensis. “Saab Sensis is proud that NATS has been recognized by ATCA for their visionary approach to off-shore flight safety.”
In addition to enhancing safety, the WAM system is being used to make helicopter traffic routes more efficient. Helicopters used very strict Helicopter Main Routes (HMR), based on a VHF Omni-directional Range (VOR) north of Aberdeen Airport in 3-degree intervals alternating between incoming and outgoing traffic. While this approach avoids conflicts, it is not always the most efficient flight path to a given destination. With WAM, pilots must still adhere to HMRs, but controllers can now release them to fly more direct routes, saving an estimated 74000kgs of fuel per year.
Almost 100 sites worldwide have chosen Saab Sensis multilateration to enhance safety, efficiency, capacity and cost savings through airport surface surveillance, wide area surveillance and airport surface management, including London Gatwick, London Heathrow and London Stansted Airports and the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.