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EGNOS Dream Now a Reality

June 29, 2015  - By
EGNOS demonstration equipment aboard a new Airbus A350 WXB.

EGNOS demonstration equipment aboard an Airbus ATR-42. (Photo by Tim Reynolds)

Toulouse, France, an aerospace city and the center of the French aerospace industry, was the birthplace of EGNOS, Europe’s satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS), in 1994. So it was appropriate that the first-ever EGNOS Flight Event was organized there in May by the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and the European Commission.

EGNOS is the acronym for European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service. It is also songe — the French word for “dream’”— spelled backwards and, according to Jean-Luc Moudenc, mayor of Toulouse, that is how the name originated.

The dream is now very much a reality. Since its certification for civil aviation in 2011, EGNOS has made steady progress in implementation. Today, 111 airports in 15 countries across Europe benefit from EGNOS, and many more are preparing for implementation — 171 LPV (localizer performance with vertical guidance) and 86 BARO approaches are already certified for use.

The EGNOS Flight Event was organized in collaboration with Airbus and brought together aviation media and other sector stakeholders for a briefing and demonstration of EGNOS, how it works, its benefits for aviation and a glimpse at its future.

The state-of-the-art Airbus A350 WXB is the first wide-body airliner equipped with the SLS.

The state-of-the-art Airbus A350 WXB is the first wide-body airliner equipped with the SLS. (Photo by Tim Reynolds)

EGNOS for Airbus

It was clear that Airbus sees integration of EGNOS, and SBAS generally, into the avionics of its product offerings, from helicopters to the giant Beluga transport plane, as very much part of the future.

A highlight of the event was a “show and tell” with the Airbus A350 WXB — a real beauty of an airplane. Participants were given a tour of this new state-of-the-art wide-bodied airliner, including a simulation of an EGNOS-enabled LPV landing in the cockpit. Airbus test pilot Jean-Christophe Lair described the A350’s new Satellite-based Landing System (SLS) that works with SBAS such as EGNOS. This is the first time such a system has been installed on a wide-body airliner and will be supplied as a standard feature to all customers.

EGNOS is fully integrated into a common harmonised landing system interface on the A350 — the SLS — that allows the pilot to fly precision approaches like an ILS with geometrical vertical guidance down to 200 feet. This new navigation system will allow Airbus users a wider range of solutions to optimise operations and increase accessibility without any compromise on safety.

“All the systems look the same to the pilot — it is a seamless integration of EGNOS — so no human-factor issues,” said Jean-Christophe. Pilot feedback had been excellent with some 3,000 hours flown on LPV approaches using both EGNOS in Europe and WAAS in North America. “We have experienced no technical or operational issues with SBAS operations,” he claimed. “The SLS shows value every day that it is used.”

SLS/LPV is operationally equivalent to CAT 1 ILS, but brings significant additional assets above the LPV minimum such as the secure coding of the final approach segment and the fact that the SBAS/ LPV vertical profile is geometric and fixed in space. The system can also be useful for creating en-route diversions and allows creation of instrumented approaches. Overall the SLS development on the A350 XWB had been a very positive experience he stated.

Earlier Philippe Rollet, senior expert Air Traffic Management at Airbus, had said that “EGNOS was more important for helicopters than aircraft.” The enhanced EGNOS guidance enabling access to helipads in urban environments. “With EGNOS you can have a helipads everywhere and the system increases operational safety in bad weather,” he claimed. “For Airbus all new helicopter models will be EGNOS capable – it is the baseline for Airbus.”

This enhanced access facility was demonstrated via the GSA-funded GARDEN project that is using EGNOS to enable increased safety and better access for helicopters, for example, enabling air ambulances to more easily access city centre hospitals. EGNOS implementation was demonstrated in the cockpit of an Airbus H175 multi-mission helicopter used as a test-bed for GARDEN.

Technology at Work In Flight. EGNOS was also in action during a series of flights for the media using EGNOS for landing procedures on an ATR turboprop development craft. The plane was equipped with additional avionic displays in the main cabin, and this allowed the press to watch the technology at work without crowding out the pilots on the flight deck! The flight demonstration took off from Blagnac for a 15-minute circuit around the beautiful “pink” city of Toulouse before demonstrating an immaculate EGNOS LPV approach and landing.

Earlier the “press pack” had also been taken on a tour of the massive assembly plant for the Airbus A380 double-decker airliner next to the airport. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area! In fact, Toulouse is blessed with aerospace tourism attractions such as the City of Space.

Expanding EGNOS?

The media was welcomed to the event by GSA executive director Carlo des Dorides. He emphasised that EGNOS for aviation delivers high precision at low cost. “EGNOS is Europe’s first satellite navigation system — and already has a good success story to tell,” he said. “It helps aviation to be safer, greener and more efficient.” He highlighted EGNOS’s ability to deliver continuous integrity protection in compliance with ICAO standards allowing CAT 1 approaches with more than 99 percent availability.

“Today 142 airports across Europe are benefitting from EGNOS, and the number is growing steadily,” he said. EGNOS’s success in aviation was also helping to spread the word for applications in other transport sectors such as maritime.

With a near-term target of 500 runways to be EGNOS enabled in Europe, the support available for airports and operators wanting to benefit from EGNOS was emphasised by Gian Gherardo Calini, the head of market development at GSA. During 2015 the agency has allotted €6 million to co-fund projects to implement EGNOS in aviation. A similar amount had also been allocated in 2014. GSA provided technical and educational support for implementation as well as financial assistance.

He saw the benefits being increased safety, operational enhancements, plus reduced cost and environmental impact. Widespread implementation would enable new point-to-point commercial airline opportunities.

Key to Significant Growth. EGNOS could be the key to a significant growth in general aviation in Europe. “The need to install ILS made the business case for most general aviation airfield out of the question,” claimed Martin Robinson, senior vice president of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association (IAOPA). There are 4,649 aerodromes in Europe and some 50,000 general aviation aircraft operating from them. In comparison to the situation in the U.S., only a small percentage the aerodromes had been. Of course, the widespread uptake of WAAS in the U.S. is a clear result of a deliberate federal strategy.

“There is definitely room for growth,” said Robinson. “EGNOS will help to provide greater access to aerodromes throughout Europe and to improve safety, but we need to be much quicker if we are to realise these benefits sooner.” He felt every general aviation airfield needed a clear business plan working towards EGNOS ability.

There was some dispute about the exact cost of implementing an EGNOS approach as it varies from location to location, but in broad terms the one-off cost of implementation seems to be equivalent to the annual maintenance cost of on-the-ground ILS equipment. With these economics, wider uptake by regional airports in Europe should be a no-brainer; however, the go or no decision often came down to individuals, said Robinson. He believes European countries need to be more willing to support the European Commission in introducing the technology. Perhaps a more region-led approach is required?

The French government line on EGNOS was given by David Comby of the French Ministry for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, who said France sees EGNOS as essential part of the modernisation process for European airspace making flying safer, more efficient, greener and more cost effective. France was working hard on EGNOS implementation, and it was possible that all French runway ends (~200) would be equipped for EGNOS by 2018.

EGNOS over Africa?

The potential for expansion of EGNOS / SBAS across the globe is huge. Despite having to battle against a barrage of taxiing aircraft noise, Jean-Marc Piéplu Head of EGNOS Exploitation at GSA described the upgrade path for EGNOS from the current Version 2 to EGNOS V3. “Version three will feature new capabilities,” he said. “Dual-frequency and dual-constellation with both GPS and Galileo signals available.”

In theory EGNOS V3 could provide EGNOS / SBAS coverage for aviation to more than 90 percent of the global land surface. Piéplu indicated that if the political will was there to implement, then this extension of coverage could be accomplished in 10 years. There were no outstanding technical issues. He also said that there were no current plans to use GLONASS signals with EGNOS.

A key market could be Africa. Establishment of transport infrastructure is seen as a key enabler for sustainable development in the less-developed world, and SBAS-based infrastructure could provide a cost-effective solution to boost connectivity safely without having to invest in vulnerable ground-based equipment.

Julien Lapie from the Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) highlighted that over 40% of citizens in Africa were more than 250 miles from an ILS-equipped airport. Negotiations on use of EGNOS over Africa are ongoing, but could be completed as soon as 2016.

As the not-so-subtle EGNOS advertising tag goes: It’s there. Use it.

About the Author: Tim Reynolds

Tim Reynolds is director of Inta Communication Ltd. and a long-term Brussels observer writing on many aspects of European government policy and implementation for a range of clients and publications. He is the contributing editor for GPS World’s new quarterly e-newsletter, EAGER: the European GNSS and Earth Observation Report.

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