Most people associate flying with going on holiday or crossing oceans and continents for business. This typically involves large commercial aircraft flying between major hubs using expensive instrument landing systems (ILS) that allow for landing in all types of weather – and hence the management of high volumes of traffic, seven days a week.
In parallel to this there is the significant - and growing - sector of business aviation and the traffic it generates. Instead of flying “gate-to-gate”, business aviation flies “door-to-door”, often using smaller airports that are close to the client’s destination and point of departure. Unfortunately, many of these airports are not equipped with instrument landing systems, limiting their access in bad weather.
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This is where satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS), such as the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), come in. EGNOS LPV (localiser performance with vertical guidance) approaches using SBAS require no ground infrastructure and can bring near-precision approach minima (currently 250 feet) performance to any kind of airport. All that is needed is a certified EGNOS receiver in the aircraft, a crew trained to fly LPV, a published LPV procedure at the airport and operational approval for operators.
“Maintaining access to primary, secondary and tertiary airports in all weather conditions is vital for business aviation,” says Belarmino Paradela, Senior Manager of Economic and Operational Activities at the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA). “With this in mind, business aviation holds a strong preference for SBAS for area navigation LPV. This system does not rely on airport-specific technology and can therefore be deployed at any airport in Europe – even for helicopter operations.”
A cost-effective solution for smaller airports
“The benefits of EGNOS are particularly noticeable for small airports struggling with costs,” says Jean-Philippe Ramu, a pilot with NetJets Europe, a leading business aviation company. “While the uptake of this technology has been slower in Europe compared to the US, both airports and aircraft are increasingly using EGNOS. For example, NetJets Europe’s new Signature Series fleet of aircraft will be equipped with LPV functionality.”
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“The costs of retrofitting an aircraft with EGNOS-enabled LPV precision approaches is higher than for operating GPS-enabled lateral navigation (LNAV), non-precision approaches,” adds Ramu. “Nevertheless, LPV functionality is likely to be standard equipment in all new aircraft.”
With the additional enhancement of EGNOS, enabling a decision height as low as 200 feet, LPV precision approaches have a great future in the European airport network. Indeed, an independent cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the GSA estimated that the benefits for Europe’s aviation sector could total EUR 2.4 billion by 2030.
Boosting EGNOS precision-based navigation in regional airports
In July 2014, the GSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the EBAA to promote the wider use of EGNOS precision-based navigation (PBN) at regional airports in Europe. “This has provided a unique opportunity, where an EU Agency and an Airspace User are collaborating to pursue a common goal,” says Paradela. “We are extremely happy with the working relationship that we have established with the GSA. Considering the complexity and the size of the task, given the resources engaged by both parties, and thanks to the involvement of our operators, the uptake accomplished so far is impressive.”
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“From the ground-side perspective, the first thing was to assess the situation of the different airports in the EBAA’s ‘wish list’ for EGNOS implementation,” he adds. “We refined the initial list of 100 airports by concentrating on the more mature projects, considering the needs and priorities of our operators and taking into account the realities on the ground. We helped unblock some challenging bottlenecks and speed up processes, and are proud to announce that at least one airport has finalised its LPV deployment thanks to our joint actions. Others are in the pipeline today and we hope that, by the end of the year, two additional airports will be announced.”
Removing regulatory bottlenecks
Some of the main challenges the sector is facing today are the heaviness and complexity of the LPV airport implementation procedure and the absence of clear guidelines for visual flight rules (VFR) airports. “Another big challenge is the design of the LPV procedure itself, which currently follows the pattern of instrument landing systems (ILS), so there is no incentive for operators to use LPV instead of the traditional ILS,” explains Paradela. “Considering the capabilities and the gains offered by the LPV technology, such as curved approaches and double glide slope etc., it is a pity we cannot benefit from them today.”
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EBAA and GSA will also soon be publishing guidelines to help operators obtain their operational approval from their respective national authorities. “This will be a big step forward as, at the moment, the behaviour of national authorities and the complexity of this procedure varies from country to country, and from operator to operator,” says Paradela.
Benefits for all
Belarmino Paradela thinks the future of business aviation will probably involve both SBAS and GBAS. “In terms of efficiency, SBAS is more versatile,” he says, “but it only allows CAT 1 operations (which is more than sufficient in the vast majority of airports), while GBAS offers auto-land capability, which is a must if you are a big hub needing to guarantee 24/7 IFR access in all-weather conditions.”
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According to Paradela, from a commercial standpoint, SBAS is more cost-effective than GBAS since it does not require ground equipment weighing in at EUR 1M. In the end, it is a question of cost-benefit analysis for the airport, which needs to trade precision against cost.
“We believe the big benefit lies in the reduction of business aviation’s environmental and noise footprint,” he concludes. “This will allow for better cohabitation of air transport and local citizens – and of course the safety improvement cannot be ignored as a great benefit!”
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