Full air traffic control surveillance for North Sea oil support operations out of Aberdeen Dyce airport, Scotland have now completed trials and gone live, ensuring that low-level helicopter operations can be seen beyond the radar horizon.

On 13 December Oil & Gas UK and NATS, the UK's main air navigation service provider, announced the world's first operational use of wide-area multilateration technology for tracking offshore flights. Helicopters in transit to and from oil and gas platforms in the North Sea are now visible to air traffic controllers from take-off to landing on the rigs, increasing the safety of helicopter traffic and efficiency of rescue operations.

Multilateration uses signal transmitters and receivers fitted to offshore oil and gas platforms to track helicopters close to the rigs, which are too far offshore for land-based radar to see them. The information allows air traffic controllers to keep safe separation between helicopters operating around or between the platforms, and provides vital details on helicopters' locations in the event of an emergency.

Only three signals need to be received in order to provide a position for the helicopter, but the fourth signal both increases accuracy and gives some redundancy should a signal not be received. The data is then sent to the control tower at Aberdeen airport where it provides real-time information for the controllers.

The system uses signal transmitters and receivers fitted to 16 offshore oil and gas platforms (four clusters of four platforms) in the central area of the North Sea, to track and identify individual helicopters across 64,750km2 (25,000 miles2) of sea in real time.

John Mayhew, NATS general manager, Aberdeen, says: "This is a major step forward for safety, as we can offer a traffic service to aircraft in the North Sea and pinpoint helicopters in emergency situations. It also enables more direct routing of helicopters to and from offshore platforms, which delivers environmental and efficiency benefits."

Source: Flight International