The quick-win technology that can enhance oceanic airspace safety


In continental airspace, communications between air traffic controllers and pilots have proven to be very effective, leading to safe and highly efficient operations. When it comes to oceanic/remote airspaces though, communications are more challenging. High levels of latency slow down services and result in significant time lapses. Additionally, to ensure safety, controllers must increase separation minima between aircraft.

This situation occurs because the current ground-based, very high frequency (VHF) communication infrastructure of continental airspaces is inaccessible or its coverage diminishes significantly in oceanic/remote airspace. By introducing new systems in oceanic/remote airspaces to achieve the performances of the current continental ground systems, we can enable equivalent levels of safety. Also, the deployment of these systems, along with the implementation of new concepts such as trajectory-based operations, can lead to the reduction of separation minima between aircraft and the use of more eco-friendly trajectories.

In this article, we are sharing the innovative solutions that are in the pipeline that can make communications in oceanic airspace safer, smarter and more sustainable.

VLD2 VOICE: Reduced separations and improved efficiencies based on VHF communications over LEO satellites

Given the need for increasing efficiencies while maintaining and/or improving levels of safety of air traffic operations in the future, new solutions need to be deployed to guarantee the proper management of the growing air traffic. The VOICE project, a SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking (JU), is a very large demonstration that came together with a stellar cast of five partners: ENAIRE, EUROCONTROL, GOMSPACE A/S, GOMSPACE Luxembourg and Indra to address this need. Indra also serves as the project coordinator.

The VOICE project will demonstrate the technical viability of satellite-based VHF systems providing voice and data communication with no need for avionics updates.  By using this new communication technology, traffic in oceanic and remote airspaces would be handled similarly to continental airspace, enabling the possibility of reducing the separation minima without compromising safety. In addition, the VOICE project will perform some cross-border operations between adjacent flight information regions (FIRs), belonging to different countries and under the responsibility of different air navigation service providers (ANSPs).

In this context, the aim of the VOICE project is to produce a feasible technical solution for the VHF voice and datalink communication of the ground segment. Seamless VHF communications between continental and oceanic/remote airspaces will enable users to overcome the current coverage limitations of the ground-based systems while reducing CO2 emissions related to aviation in Europe thanks to the use of more efficient trajectories.

LEO Satellites: the future for oceanic operations

LEO satellite-based VHF voice and datalink communication technology will bring benefits that include:

  • Promotion of the establishment of a common service architecture.
  • Increase in safety and capacity in oceanic/remote airspaces, where currently there is no continental VHF coverage, complemented by a surveillance layer composed of ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast).

Satellite-based CNS systems could be enablers for virtualization by permitting oceanic controllers situated far away from the airspace where a flight is located, to provide ATM services. The use of services based on these systems is a step forward in demonstrating the feasibility of the ADSP (ATM Data Service Provider) concept, one of the cornerstones of future ATM provision.

This will also be demonstrated during the VOICE project execution by allowing controllers from FIR Sal ACC in Cape Verde to visualize target positions, and exchange flight data and voice communications with aircraft that are overflying FIR Canarias airspace, and vice-versa.

Where will the VLD take place?

The demo described above will cover operations in CANARIAS and SAL FIRs with operational staff communicating with aircraft at distances greater than 800 NM, which is equivalent to the distance between Madrid and Amsterdam.

The following “use cases” will be covered during VOICE execution:

Use Case 1: Use of satellite VHF for voice/data communications and ADS-B in airspace without terrestrial VHF/ADS-B surveillance coverage.

During the exercise, controllers from Canarias ACC will monitor the aircraft overflying FIR Canarias oceanic airspace. The exercise will be repeated in Cape Verde, covering FIR Sal oceanic airspace.

Use Case 2:  Use of satellite VHF for voice/data communications and ADS-B as a means of contingency/delegation.

The SAL ACC controllers will visualize aircraft positions, and exchange CPDLC data, and voice communications with aircraft overflying FIR Canarias airspace, and vice versa. It will imply that a flight could receive communications from a control centre other than the one where it is overflying in case of communications problems.

Use Case 3: The use of satellite for voice/data communications and ADS-B in terrestrial airspace.

Controllers in Canarias ACC will send/receive flight data information (ADS-C and CPDLC) of the flights overflying Canarias airspace with radar coverage. Its main objective is to demonstrate the usefulness of VHF satellites as an alternative to data exchange.

The feasibility will be initially tested with a high-altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS), followed by a LEO Satellite (both launched outside of VOICE Scope) that will be the main assets for the space segment of this demonstration activity.

The project demonstration is expected to take place in five exercises that cover the three use cases. Each of the exercises may consist of activities applicable to exercise participants who are generally located in the same geographical area. The exercises will be carried out during the following generic phases: preparatory activities (2021-2022); execution activities (2022); and analysis activities (2022-2023).

Finally, VOICE project results will demonstrate that a more efficient ATM service is possible using a VHF satellite system that blurs the boundary between oceanic/remote and continental zones, enabling a revolutionary new global operational framework that will provide full transparency in-cabin operations (no updates are needed), as well as increasing capacity and efficiency throughout the world’s oceanic and polar airspace.

Funded within the framework of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement 101017688), the project brings together the following project partners: Indra (Coordinator), Enaire, EUROCONTROL, GOMSPACE A/S and GOMSPACE Luxembourg.

To learn more about the VOICE Project click here.

About the contributors to the VOICE Project: 

Indra is an ATM European company, world leader in this market with a wide variety of areas of knowledge member of the SESAR JU and with high participation in the SESAR programme. Indra is now developing a space-based CNS initiative to provide a dynamic platform for the transition into free flight, enabling a redundant communication service. 

ENAIRE is a leading air navigation and aeronautical information provider founded in 1990, based in Madrid. It actively participates as a member of SESAR JU, CANSO and ALLIANCE. As a member of the project, it pursues the objective of aiming at improving the VHF comms at oceanic areas where ground infrastructure is not feasible. 

EUROCONTROL is an intergovernmental Organisation with 41 Member States, committed to building a Single European Sky that will deliver the ATM performance required for the 21st century.  EUROCONTROL is a major player in European ATM research, development and validation and in this respect makes the largest contribution to the SESAR Joint Undertaking. 

GOMSPACE A/S is a globally leading manufacturer and supplier of cubesat & small satellite solutions for customers in the academic, government and commercial markets. GOMSPACE as a European leader in nanosatellite technology is well-positioned to support the project and help ensure a successful outcome of the planned demonstrations. 

GOMSPACE Luxembourg was incorporated to develop new business activities in Luxembourg focusing on operations of satellite constellations. To this end, GOM LUX is developing unique new products to enable the operations of nanosatellite Mega Constellations.