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NATS takes equity stake in Aireon
Iridium NEXT satellites. © Thales

NATS takes equity stake in Aireon

UK air traffic management service provider NATS has acquired a 10% equity stake in Aireon for $69m.

NATS, the UK air traffic management service provider, has taken an equity stake in Aireon, which is deploying a new space-based air trafic surveillance system comprising Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads hosted by the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. NATS is investing $69m for a stake of approximately 10%.

The network of 66 low earth orbiting satellites will monitor the location of ADS-B-equipped aircraft flying anywhere in the world, transforming the way air traffic control services are provided. Oceans and remote regions like the poles, deserts and mountainous areas will have real-time aircraft surveillance for the first time. The system is due to become operational this year.

NATS has also confirmed that it is currently consulting with its customers about introducing the “transformational” satellite technology for use over the North Atlantic starting with operational trials from 2019 to deliver the capacity and safety benefits that the airspace requires to keep pace with demand.

An analysis jointly undertaken by NATS and NAV CANADA, endorsed by ICAO, projects an approximate 76% reduction in safety risk from using the Aireon service. This would allow NATS to meet ICAO’s safety targets while also meeting the growth needs of the North Atlantic as well as giving customers more flexibility in how they fly across the ocean.

Last year, NATS controllers handled 500,000 flights through North Atlantic airspace — a figure expected to grow to almost 800,000 by 2030.

Fifty Iridium NEXT satellites have been launched to date out of a total of 75, including nine on-orbit spares. Five more will follow on 19th May, on the second of four launches planned this year. The remaining two launches will each carry 10 satellites.

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