The UK and Netherlands civil-aviation authorities are considering following Norway's lead in using satellite-based surveillance and communications to bring positive air-traffic control (ATC) to North Sea helicopter operations.

Much of the region is outside radar or VHF communications range and there is serious concern among oil companies and helicopter operators over the likelihood of a mid-air collision in the busy helicopter lanes. The International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations has labelled the area "black star" airspace.

Norway's experimental modified automatic dependent surveillance (M-ADS) programme to implement "pseudo-radar" surveillance and datalink communications has proved successful so far.

The Norwegian CAA (NCAA) has also received legal advice suggesting that it will be able to overcome possible objections to the implementation of positive ATC in the international airspace involved.

The other CAAs involved in North Sea operations had not been keen on following the Norwegians' route, but that is changing.

A study is getting under way in ATC Netherlands looking at the issue of navigation and ATC in the Dutch sector of the North Sea, but paying closest attention to possible satellite-based solutions. The Netherlands has considerable military traffic to cope with alongside the energy-exploration operations. A report is due in mid-year.

The UK's National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which has intensive energy-exploration traffic in its sector, says: "We are very interested in what the Norwegians are doing and are looking at it very closely." NATS indicates that it is particularly looking for Norway to finalise its commitment to making the fitting of M-ADS equipment compulsory.

Source: Flight International