What is ADS-B tracking?

ADS-B, short for Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, uses GPS satellites and other navigation tools to help determine an aircraft’s location at any given time.

This information is then broadcast periodically via public radio frequencies to a network of ADS-B receivers. 1090MHz is the internationally approved frequency, although in the US, certain aircraft are also able to use the 978MHz frequency. Unlike radar technology, which takes 4 seconds to update an aircraft’s position, ADS-B provides provides both position and velocity twice per second. This means that ADS-B technology provides real-time information on aircraft position and parameters, which is key.

This data can be used by all aircraft with ADS-B IN equipment that enables it to receive information, and air traffic controllers (ATCs) to make real-time decisions.

In this article, we’ll look at how ADS-B tracking can be used and some of the benefits it can bring to the aviation industry.

What are the benefits of ADS-B tracking?

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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 tracking is an essential tool for tackling many of the challenges the aviation industry faces and will continue to face over the coming years, from increasing passenger safety to decreasing carbon emissions.

As of May 2021, around 87% of airliners in Europe, 92% in US and 90% in Asia are equipped with ADS-B v2 transponders. In 2020, the US and Europe, along with a number of other regions, made ADS-B OUT mandatory for aircraft operating across their airspace. As it becomes a central part of international regulators’ long-term airspace planning, ADS-B can become a key component of surveillance for the global aviation industry.

Why is ADS-B tracking useful for the aviation industry?

ADS-B tracking supports both ATCs and pilots in a number of ways, but most importantly, with increasing safety across the skies. As air traffic has increased over the decades, safe separation of planes has become even more challenging, in order to prevent aircraft collisions. ADS-B data provides more data about aircraft positioning, enabling self-separation technology to work more effectively.

The data provided through ADS-B also enhances pilots’ situational awareness.

ADS-B airborne situational awareness

In the past, they were almost totally dependent on instruction from ATC. Now, by being able to receive data from nearby aircraft, as well as from ground control, pilots have a much clearer picture of the skies around them. Through the use of ADS-B transponders, pilots can also access Traffic Information Services (TIS-B) and Flight Information Services (FIS-B), further building their situational awareness. All this allows for more collaborative decision making between pilots and ATC.

TIS-B is a client-based service that provides ADS-B Out/In equipped aircraft with information about aircraft that are not ADS-B equipped. To receive TIS-B data, an aircraft must be equipped with ADS-B IN functionality and be in TIB-B transmitter coverage. FIS-B is not a client-based service and is only broadcast on the UAT frequency (978MHz), not on the 1090MHz frequency. It provides meteorological and aeronautical data directly to the cockpit. By receiving TIS-B & FIS-B broadcasts, pilots can identify potential obstacles – such as other aircraft, severe weather events or airspace restrictions – that could impact their flightpath, giving them the option to alter their route if a safer or more efficient one is open to them.

The data that ADS-B transponders broadcast is also an essential tool for ATCs in helping to track aircraft with more precision. By having a more accurate view of an aircraft across it’s flightpath, the critical time window for navigability, search and rescue missions is greatly reduced, should they be needed.

How ADS-B tracking can help to reduce carbon emissions

One area that ADS-B tracking can be really beneficial is in helping to reduce carbon emissions. When ATCs use land-based radar returns to monitor and separate aircraft, information is restricted. There are some areas where the control must be performed without radar data, because the terrain is unsuitable for radar towers (for example over large expanses of water, mountain regions, or remote areas). The lack of location information available means aircraft need to be separated by larger gaps, for safety reasons. This often results in less efficient routes. This is where satellite data comes in.

By using ADS-B tracking instead, and gaining access to real-time flight data, self-separation technology can be used more effectively. This enables aircraft to fly closer together on more fuel efficient altitudes and favourable routes, without compromising on safety. Given that the industry plans to reduce net aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050 (relative to 2005), ADS-B could play a crucial role in helping them to reach this target.

This is just one example of how the use of ADS-B data can help meet industry targets around carbon emissions, and also reduce the costs for airline operators. The benefit of creating efficiencies, whilst also boosting safety emphasises why this technology will play a key role in the long-term growth plans for the aviation industry.

How does Spire Data support ADS-B tracking?

Spire is a provider of global flight tracking data. We offer access to both historical and up-to-date flight tracking and weather data to support aviation operations. Our satellite-based receivers enable us to capture data, via ADS-B signals, in remote areas that terrestrial data services cannot, such as large bodies of water or mountain ranges. This means we can provide more complete global coverage, 24/7.

Having access to more data means Spire customers can make more strategic business decisions, faster. With our flight tracking and historical data APIs, you can quickly integrate and query data into your workflows.

For more information about how Spire can help with your business needs, just give us a shout.

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