UK follows France in committing to MLS landing aid

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UK airspace authority National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has followed the French DGAC in committing to the installation of microwave landing systems (MLS) by ordering four to be sited at London Heathrow.

NATS has also placed options for additional MLS installations at other airports across the country.

France’s DGAC ordered up to eight systems last year - one for Toulouse Blagnac plus a further seven for the two major Paris airports -  in a surprise move which resurrected the MLS concept, long thought to have been superseded by satellite-based landing technology.

The first French MLS has already been installed at Toulouse and is undergoing certification.

As in France the Heathrow MLS will be co-located with existing instrument landing systems (ILS). The MLS will be capable of providing Category 3 landing guidance.

“The Heathrow operation is among the busiest in the world and MLS is expected to bring benefits to both our airline and airport customers,” says NATS airport services director Peter Wilde.

MLS signals are affected less than those of ILS by such factors as building infrastructure on the airport periphery. British Airways will be a primary user of the MLS through its short-haul Airbus fleet.

Thales ATM of France is supplying the MLSs to both NATS and the DGAC. Speaking to ATI at the ATC Maastricht 2002 Jane’s Conference, Thales ATM CEO Michel Mathieu comments: “We put the investment into MLS a long time ago, and only now are we seeing the returns.

“It’s been available for a long time but without many users. With the UK and France buying MLS in parallel, this is in turn very interesting.”

He says that the high profiles of Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle could prompt other major airports to consider MLS again - especially in the light of concerns over the feasibility of relying on satellite-based landings.

“Heathrow is a difficult environment because of the buildings and the [ILS] frequency bands. MLS will correct all that,” says Mathieu.

“It is important for countries to set the tone. We have received more interest from countries which were sceptical but have become interested [in MLS] because of NATS and the DGAC.

“MLS is made to enhance ILS - you don’t need it all over the place. But after the UK has tested its [MLS] business plan for airlines we are sure that there will be more orders to come.”