Aircraft operating anywhere in Europe now have access to satellite precision approach guidance with the formal launch of the EGNOS safety-of-life service.
EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, is the counterpart to the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) already available in the USA.
While signals from the GPS navigation satellite constellation, or Europe's similar Galileo constellation - whose first satellites will be launched this year - give position data accurate to at least 10m (33ft), EGNOS and WAAS take that accuracy of vertical and horizontal position down to less than 1m.
Fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft equipped with a suitable receiver and cockpit display can, therefore, dramatically improve the safety of their landing approaches. While not a substitute for traditional, ground-based air traffic control and guidance systems, EGNOS and WAAS are particularly valuable in poor weather at airfields too small to invest in expensive, ground-based instrument landing systems.
Improving positional accuracy will also allow for decreased separation between aircraft in poor weather, more direct routing and the commencement of descent closer to the runway, hopefully reducing delays, carbon dioxide emissions and noise near airports.
EGNOS works through a network of 40 ground stations which gather position data from the GPS satellite constellation and, soon, Galileo, and beam that up to transponders aboard three satellites in geostationary orbits over Europe.
The amalgamation of data from many stations and navigation satellites results in a more precise positional signal which is beamed back down to receivers aboard aircraft or other vehicles.
The key development this week that pushed EGNOS from its trial to operational phases was the certification of safety-of-life service operator ESSP in Toulouse.
European Commission vice-president for industry and entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani, speaking in London yesterday, stressed that the free-to-use signals are a public service, and private companies are encouraged to develop receivers capable of exploiting them.
Tajani also stresses that he is determined to work with private industry to bring down the anticipated €1.9 billion ($2.6 billion) cost of the 2014-2020 phase of the Galileo project, which must orbit 18 satellites to provide a minimum, global coverage but ultimately aims for a 30-satellite constellation for ideal accuracy and in-orbit redundancy.