By Mary Kirby in Washington DC & David Learmount in London

Radar and ADS cover will enable aircraft operating polar routes to save fuel by cruising at optimum flight levels

For the first time positive air traffic surveillance is available in the North Polar oceanic area, the US Federal Aviation Administration has announced. This will allow the increasing number of aircraft that ply polar routes between North America and Asia to fly more directly at optimised flight levels.

It will also allow air traffic controllers safely to reduce the spacing between aircraft in the area from the previous procedural 100nm (185km) lateral separation down to 30nm, says the FAA.

This follows the just-granted operational approval of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures air traffic management system at the FAA's air route traffic control centre in Anchorage, Alaska. On controllers' displays the system combines radar coverage - where it exists - with automatic dependent surveillance information about aircraft, says Lockheed Martin.

ADS provides controllers with a radar-like display of aircraft position, identification, and flight level information automatically datalinked via satellite from the aircraft in an area where, previously, aircraft were controlled procedurally. ATOP also provides controllers with conflict alerts.

The system has already been deployed at control centres in Ronkonkoma, New York and Oakland, California, providing air traffic service over the Atlantic and Pacific regions. However, at these centres the controllers continue to use paper flight progress strips to keep tabs on aircraft and their clearance details, while at Anchorage the system goes into operation with electronic strips.

The Anchorage deployment completes the US system's oceanic surveillance of surrounding oceanic areas in which it is responsible for aircraft separation.

Lockheed Martin reports that, during one 12-month period since the system went operational at the New York centre, ATOP allowed controllers to grant 90% more altitude change requests than they could under the procedural control system, enabling pilots to reduce fuel consumption by optimising their flight level.

Source: Flight International