Electronic Conspicuity, The Roadblock to AAM


Wednesday 20 March

10:00am - 10:25am


Wing Theatre


Session Overview

If the age of drones has taught us anything, we’ve learned that our current aircraft tracking infrastructure is limited. Our efforts to conquer the lower altitude regimes expose the weakness of non-cooperative tracking systems like radar. Non-cooperative systems are costly, lack significant range to see smaller objects, and are not as accurate as GPS tracking systems onboard the aircraft itself. UTM concepts for strategic deconfliction have forged a path for drones to fly safely if all cooperative with data-sharing processes. But without full cooperation of everyone in the sky, including all manned aircraft at low altitudes, we can’t have a complete air picture.

The concept of sharing our position data is called Electronic Conspicuity, eConspicuity, or “EC”. Traditionally, this is done with ADS-B systems that send GPS track position to other aircraft or ground receivers. However, not all aircraft can or choose to use ADS-B. We end up with two communities with the same rights to use the sky, but different opinions on how to address safety of flight. Crewed aircraft have pilots with eyes that perform detect and avoid, while drones rely on sensors to see other aircraft. And the common complaint among crewed aircraft pilots is that “they shouldn’t have to equip with ADS-B just so drones can fly”. This isn’t a comprehensive argument. EC doesn’t just benefit drones. It aids all pilots in seeing each other. There are many incidents that have occurred between aircraft that only relied on pilot eyes to “see and avoid” each other.

Some arguments for not equipping with ADS-B are understandable. ADS-B has its limitations. It’s expensive to install in an aircraft, costing at minimum a couple thousand US dollars up to nearly ten thousand for certified “in/out” solutions after the installation costs. Some aircraft can absorb these costs, but others like gliders and ultralights can’t. ADS-B also has security issues because it broadcasts tracking information to everyone, all the time. Beyond these issues, there are design constraints for ADS-B that should limit the use of the system when larger aircraft are using it in saturated airspace. ADS-B quality needs to be preserved. If we want a comprehensive air picture, we need to look for other systems to help.

We need to have a comprehensive air picture to understand where aircraft are flying, but how much information needs to be shared? The reality is that the information shared should match the use case of the flight operation. For example, an aircraft on a predictable flight path could share flight position updates infrequently and those updates could be used to estimate the future position of the aircraft. Other aircraft like crop dusters might be hard to track, but operating in a confined area. In that case, sharing the operational area might be more useful so aircraft can avoid that area altogether. The backbone of a comprehensive EC system should be capable of supporting various types of flight plans and flight tracking systems. UTM is designed to be this system.

UTM is a flexible system that can share flight intent and flight operations. UTM integrates with the aircraft or aircraft operator directly. It’s a cooperative system and relies on sharing flight plans and flight tracking information. The system can ingest both four dimensional flight paths, but also area based operations. It also ingests flight position at a frequency defined by the operator. The flight information is shared privately in a network and only accessible if there is a potential safety risk.

This abstract makes the case for a comprehensive air picture using electronic conspicuity. It also recognizes the limitations of existing systems like ADS-B to scale and meet the need. We need more cooperative systems like UTM along with ADS-B to provide alternative means of compliance for aircraft that can’t or choose not to use ADS-B. But, also to share the right type of information based on the flight operation. UTM and ADS-B can work together to provide a comprehensive air picture at a cost that is far less than trying to provide coverage with non-cooperative systems alone.

OneSky will present the case for electronic conspicuity and show the right solution is a mix of existing systems like radar and ADS-B, new systems like UTM and policy to enforce the use of these systems to achieve a comprehensive air picture. Only if we can realize the need for electronic conspicuity can we move towards an efficient air traffic management system that is truly integrated.

Session Speakers

Subject Areas

Wing Theatre
Strengthening Resilience in ATM
Reimagining ATM Operations
Pathway to Advanced Air Mobility
Fostering a Thriving Aviation Community
Global Safety and Security
Unleashing the Potential of Drones
Innovation and Digital Transformation in ATM