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Singapore to Trial Pilot-Controller Satellite Communication

To conduct a proof-of-concept on the use of space-based Very High Frequency (VHF) voice for communication between pilots and air traffic controllers for air traffic management, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and the Economic Development Board’s Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with partner companies.

The novel technology’s viability and advantages over ground-based VHF voice communications will be shown in the proof of concept, and the data will be gathered for international review, standards creation, and acceptance.

As global and regional air traffic continues to grow, CAAS is committed to leveraging new technologies to enhance air traffic management to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, and to being a pathfinder and convenor of the public-private partnership needed to drive development and global adoption of such technologies.

– Han Kok Juan, Director-General, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore

The Director-General added that the space-based VHF communications technology has the potential to revolutionise aviation, improving safety, effectiveness, and sustainability while expanding capacity to handle the growing demand for air travel. If this proof of concept is effective, it will be a big step toward acceptance and adoption around the world.

Pilots and air traffic controllers currently communicate with one another via VHF voice communications. For instance, pilots can ask for clearance to ascend or descend, and air traffic controllers can adjust a flight path in reaction to weather or turbulence.

The communication must be trustworthy, direct, and immediate to ensure safe and effective air traffic management, particularly in congested airspaces and during abnormal and emergency situations.

Moreover, due to the ground-based nature of present VHF stations, there is little to no coverage for VHF voice communications in maritime, hilly, or remote places that are outside the range of ground-based stations, which poses operational challenges. Air traffic control will be safer and more effective because of the expanded coverage provided by space-based VHF voice communications.

Before they may be used for safe operations, space-based VHF voice communications must first undergo technical feasibility studies, evaluation, and standardisation by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The CAAS-OSTIn and partner companies’ proof of concept is the first technical research where a specially manufactured satellite will be launched into orbit to contain VHF communications gear for such a trial, even though there have been earlier technical studies in this area.

The trial’s goal is to show that space-based communications are compatible with aircraft technology and already-existing ground radio stations, with equivalent speech quality, latency, and other standards to ground-based voice communications.

The trial will specifically show that space-based voice communications are feasible for the equatorial region, where the scintillation effect that degrades the quality of VHF audio communications is known to be particularly severe. Beginning in 2023, the proof of concept will take a year to complete. After that, CAAS will present the findings and data to the ICAO and ITU for review and discussion.

Between CAAS-OSTIn and partner companies, the program delivers strong complementary skills. The testbed for the trial will be provided by CAAS, a prominent provider of air navigation services that is at the forefront of technological development and adoption.

The development and application of space capabilities to aviation as well as the creation of a space eco-system will be examined by OSTIn, Singapore’s national space office, to support the endeavour. Moreover, joint ventures will put the satellite into orbit and supply the hardware and communications infrastructure.

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