Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Air Traffic Control

I had spent a few years working in the Air Traffic Control, ATC, space decades ago. Some at MIT while working at Lincoln Lab and some with FAA while in DC. Back in 1976, yes forty years ago, I was an Advisor on satellite based ATC systems while in DC. Now some forty years later the ESA announces its intent to really really explore it again.

The ESA states:

ESA recently completed its first flight trials using satellites to help bring Europe closer to its goal of modernising air traffic control. The trials are part of the public–private partnership between ESA and UK satellite operator Inmarsat to deliver high-capacity secure digital data links via satellite for air–ground communications for cockpit crews over European airspace under ESA’s Iris Precursor programme. By 2019, Iris Precursor will provide air–ground communications for initial ‘4D’ flight path control, pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time. This will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic. 

Unfortunately this time the risks may be much greater. Satellites are vulnerable, networks can be hacked, signals can be spoofed, and not by National adversaries but by some less well intentioned individual with a laptop.

Thus what forty years ago was a great idea, in today's world, could cause havoc. Nice try but it is a bit too late.