How ADS-B has Shaped the Modern Aviation Industry

ADS-B has been used by the global aviation industry for well over two decades, and has become a key enabler in the modernisation of its surveillance systems.

In 2020, ADS-B was mandated by the US and European regulatory bodies for aircraft travelling through much of their airspace. Many other countries – such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and large parts of SouthEast Asia – have also adopted this form of surveillance system, enabling interoperability, which led it to become standardised across the global aviation industry. ADS-B is crucial in improving safety in the skies, by giving both pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC) greater situational awareness at any given time.

What is ADS-B?

ADS-B is a form of surveillance technology that allows both air-to-ground and air-to-air communications, enabling one-way contact between pilots and ATC (Air Traffic Control) as well as other pilots. So, unlike other forms of surveillance such as radar and multilateration, pilots can share their positions with other nearby aircraft, unless TIS-B is used. This allows them to build a much clearer picture of the skies around them. It also supports self-separation of aircraft, contributing to increased safety across the airspace.

Another difference between ADS-B and traditional surveillance technology, like radar, is its ability to provide greater coverage. Radio waves are limited to line of sight, meaning that radar signals aren’t able to travel long distances (such as across large bodies of water) or penetrate solid objects (e.g., mountains). This results in large information gaps for ATCs using traditional radar surveillance. ADS-B ground stations and satellites are much more adaptable and can be positioned in areas that would be hard to reach for radars, and can therefore give broader coverage, regardless of the terrain.

What does ADS-B stand for?

ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast.

It’s labelled automatic, because it transmits information without the need for pilot or operator involvement. Dependent relates to its requirement for GPS or other suitable navigation systems, such as a Flight Management System (FMS), to detect position and velocity vectors. It’s considered a surveillance technology, because it is able to determine the 3D position and identification of aircraft and other objects. Broadcast refers to the fact that it’s able to share information with anyone who has appropriate receiving equipment.

How does ADS-B work?

ADS-B can function with a Mode S 1090ES transponder or beacon, a Surveillance Radar (SSR) , Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and the use of ground-based or satellite-based surveillance systems.

Data is transmitted using the 1090MHz frequency via two types of burst transmissions sent periodically by the Mode S transponder – ‘short squitters’ and ‘extended squitters’. These provide different levels of information that can be received by ATC ground control centres and other aircraft around, helping to build a fuller picture of the air situation.

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1090MHz is the internationally approved frequency to transmit data, and many countries have mandated that all aircraft flying above 18,000 FT MSL are required to use it to communicate. However, in the US, the Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) frequency – 978MHz – is commonly used among general aviation aircraft that fly below 18,000FT MSL. Via this frequency, pilots are also able to receive traffic (TIS-B) and weather (FIS-B) data, further building the picture of the skies around them.

ADS-B tracking explained

ADS-B tracking is used by the global aviation industry to increase passenger and aircraft safety, decrease carbon emissions and reduce costs for airline operators. It has become a crucial tool for pilots and ATCs to support decision making, and since its mandatory implementation in much of the world’s airspace in 2020, around 87% of airliners in Europe, 92% in US and 90% in Asia are equipped with Mode-S transponders.

This method of surveillance is able to provide real-time information relating to aircraft positions and parameters to pilots and ground control. It differs from radar surveillance which takes about 4 seconds to update an aircraft’s position.

Benefits of ADS-B tracking

Having an immediate picture of the airspace around an aircraft at any given time with ADS-B data greatly enhances pilots’ situational awareness. It can alert them to potential dangers from nearby aircraft or extreme weather events, as well as highlighting any airspace restrictions. The fact that this sort of information, along with TIS-B and FIS-B data, is available directly in the cockpit for pilots to view means they are not solely dependent on instruction from ATC, and allows for more collaborative decision making relating to routing. It can also reduce the critical time window for potential search and rescue missions, as aircraft can be tracked with more precision.


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The option of installing ADS-B IN with ADS-B OUT can significantly improve situational awareness.


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A modern, more accurate surveillance system.


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Visibility to air traffic control over a larger area in FIR because the coverage of ADS-B is greater.


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More precise information on your aircraft’s position in an emergency, to a much lower altitude and with 45 percent more coverage than currently possible with secondary radar.


ADS-B also enables reduced separation of aircraft, which allows more fuel-efficient and economic routes to be taken safely. When the industry is reliant on radar surveillance, standard separation of aircraft has to be implemented for safety reasons. Given the gaps in data ATC receive when aircraft fly over terrain that is inaccessible for radar signal (such as oceans or mountains), the exact location of an aircraft cannot be known. To accommodate for this lack of information, aircraft have to be spaced further apart than necessary, giving more buffer room to prevent potential collisions. This often results in pilots having to take a less direct flight path, which takes longer and requires more fuel.

The implementation of ADS-B reduces the need for standard separation, enabling flights to follow more direct routes. By reducing the amount of fuel required, airline operators can not only save costs, but also reduce carbon emissions, allowing for more environmentally friendly flights. This supports the industry in meeting IATA’s plans to reduce net aviation CO2 emissions to 50% of the 2005 levels by 2050.

ADS-B In and Out

ADS-B has two modes. ADS-B Out – which, since 2020, has been mandated by US and European regulators for all aircraft flying within certain airspace – and ADS-B In.

ADS-B Out enables aircraft to broadcast information, such as position, GPS location, speed and details about its size, to receivers on the ground and in other aircraft. In order for aircraft to broadcast using ADS-B, they require a Mode S transponder or even an ADS-B beacon and an extended squitter to be enabled. For the data to be received by ATC, ground receivers need to be equipped with an antenna.

To meet the requirements laid out by the US and European regulators (FAA and EASA), any new aircraft being produced must now include ADS-B Out, developed according to the DO-260B avionics standard. Old aircraft had to be adapted – either by upgrading the transponder software or position source software, or completely replacing the transponder and position source box – before the regulations were enforced in 2020. To support the roll-out, the FAA launched an ADS-B rebate programme which helped aircraft operators cover the cost of the transition.

ADS-B In enables aircraft to receive broadcasts from ground control and other aircraft. It helps pilots to build better situational awareness as it allows them to access TIS-B and FIS-B data, as well as information directly from nearby aircraft. ADS-B In may be utilised, in tandem with ADS-B Out capabilities.

Whilst ADS-B In is not mandatory, it has been shown to contribute greatly to flight safety as self separation is only available on aircraft that have this capability. Aircraft with In capabilities are required to be equipped with an ADS-B receiver, data processing abilities and a cockpit display for pilots to access the information.

ADS-B Data requirements

Given that ADS-B has become the standard surveillance technology for much of the global aviation industry, there are fundamental requirements when it comes to the quality of the data that is shared between aircraft and ATC. Moreover this data sharing facilitates interoperability internationally.

The integrity and quality of the data that is shared is measured by the Quality Indicators. It requires that a minimum set of data parameters are shared, including information around position, location and aircraft dimensions (aircraft dimensions are not provided via ADS-B).

When it comes to data sharing, as of 2020, the US and European regulators’ ADS-B mandates require that ground stations are designed to support the DO-260B standard, which provides a better service. To ensure interoperability globally, regions such as Asia Pacific are also mandating the DO-260B standard.

How can Spire help with ADS-B data requirements?

The use of satellite-based receivers enables Spire to capture data in remote areas that terrestrial data services cannot, such as over large bodies of water or mountain ranges. This means we can provide better global coverage, 24/7.

Spire is a provider of global flight tracking data. With Low Earth Multi-Use Receiver (LEMUR) – our 3U CubeSat platform – we can easily track aviation and weather activity from space using ADS-B and RO signals. Through this, we offer access to both historical and up-to-date flight and weather data to support aviation operations.

Having access to more data allows you to make more strategic business decisions. For example, our data can help cargo operators reduce costs and wait times of their fleet, and improve scheduling by providing visibility on cargo hotspot airports and offering estimates of freight capacity in the air. Historical data of past freight movements can also help plan for future movements based on predicted demand.

Spire data can also help provide information on operational efficiency and aircraft utilisation. In order to make these important business decisions, it’s crucial to have easy access to the latest information on the situation in the skies and also historical trends. Spire’s flight tracking and historical data APIs let you quickly integrate and query data. This makes it easy to connect your existing internal systems, or build better products for customers using enriched Spire data.

ADS-B data goes far beyond air traffic management. Here’s how our partners are now able to capture and process more data at speed, using machine learning, AI, and predictive modeling, opening up new avenues for data usage in both the commercial and governmental applications. Our Air Traffic Data combines ADS-B data with additional aircraft and flight information, and is used across the board – from flight operations, geospatial intel, border management, applications development, financial analysis, travel analytics, tourism, and more.

For more information about how Spire can help with your business needs , request a call-back below.

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Continue reading our ADS-B series

Current: How ADS-B has Shaped the Modern Aviation Industry
02: How does ADS-B work?
03: What is ADS-B tracking?
04: ADS-B Out and ADS-B In Explained
05: ADS-B data: understanding basic regulatory context

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