Houston air traffic controllers have begun using automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology to separate and manage aircraft flying over the Gulf of Mexico as nationwide rollout of the technology is expected in the USA by 2013.

Before ADS-B controllers had to rely on an aircraft's estimated or reported position in the Gulf of Mexico, which does not have radar coverage, and controllers separated commercial aircraft at high altitudes by as much as 222km (120nm).

Due to the large number of helicopter operations in the region, FAA installed ground stations on oil platforms and the surrounding shoreline as part of an agreement with the Helicopter Association International, oil and natural gas companies and helicopter operators. Prior to the ADS-B rollout, operations were severely restrained for the 5,000 to 9,000 daily helicopter operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Individual helicopters were isolated within a 32km(20 miles) by 32km box to remain safely separated.

The Gulf of Mexico is the latest area to go live with ADS-B following a deployment in Louisville, Kentucky in 2009. Controllers in Philadelphia will begin using the technology next month. In addition, the system will be operational in Juneau, Alaska, this April.

In Louisville, cargo operator UPS voluntarily outfitted much of its fleet with avionics to support ADS-B, and FAA explains four ground stations supply controllers at the airport and at the terminal radar approach control facility with an ADS-B coverage area of 111km around the airport up to 10,000ft (3,050m).

FAA in April expects to issue its final rule to mandate that airlines are outfitted with ADS-B avionics by 2020. The agency published a technical standard order (TSO) for ADS-B avionics units in December 2009.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news