Fly there faster? New satellite coverage promises to revolutionize air traffic control


OTTAWA—The aircraft symbols inch their way across the computer monitor — Air France 378 en route from Paris to Detroit; Delta 85, a Boeing 777 headed to Atlanta; and Lufthansa 412, an Airbus A350 flying Munich to Newark.

At first blush, there’s nothing exceptional about the air traffic control display — except for the piece of airspace it depicts.

These aircraft over the North Atlantic are far beyond the range of ground-based radar. What makes this real-time depiction of oceanic air traffic possible is a new constellation of satellites now orbiting the Earth, giving controllers a window on flights they’ve never had before.

It promises to revolutionize air traffic control, providing a view of air traffic in areas such as oceans, deserts, and mountainous and remote regions where ground-based radars are currently unable to provide surveillance.

With improved surveillance comes the promise of more efficient routing, potentially shorter trips and millions of dollars in fuel savings.

“It’s the greatest thing since the advent of radar,” spokesperson Ron Singer said.

Earlier this month, a SpaceX rocket carried the final 10 Iridium satellites into space, completing a constellation of 66 satellites and nine spares in low-earth orbit, to replace an existing network of communications satellites.

Aireon, a U.S. company, saw an opportunity to piggyback technology on the satellites that would be able to track aircraft from space.

The technology utilizes equipment — known as automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B)— now being installed on aircraft that transmits GPS location, altitude, speed and other information.

Those signals are detected by satellites overhead, relayed to ground stations and on to air traffic control agencies.

Nav Canada is a partner in Aireon, along with the air traffic control operations in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Italy. Other agencies are expected to sign on to use the technology to better manage air traffic in their regions.

At a Nav Canada technical centre at Ottawa airport, Steve Bellingham, manager navigation systems engineering for the company, walks a visitor through a demonstration.

On a computer display, he calls up a real-time display of air traffic in Canadian airspace using the satellite data and highlights flights over the ocean — where Nav Canada shares responsibility for air traffic control — and in Canada’s far north that until now has been out of view for controllers.

“These ones for sure we would not see,” he said. “It changes how you do your business.”

Ground-based radar has many limitations. It’s based on line of sight, meaning that anything beyond the horizon is lost to its electronic view. It requires antenna installations, which are costly to build and maintain.

But the main problem is that vast parts of the globe have no radar and hence there’s no accurate picture of the air traffic in these areas.

As a result, to keep aircraft safely separated in these areas, controllers resort to procedures using position reports sent from aircraft via datalink every five or 10 minutes.

It’s not unsafe. But it’s inefficient, with aircraft spaced far apart to provide an extra margin of safety. Space-based ATC will change all that.

“You know exactly where these guys are,” Bellingham said.

“You can have aircraft a lot closer here with confidence than you could when you only getting a report every few minutes.”

Having a more accurate depiction of air traffic will enable aircraft to fly closer together and thus increase the capacity of airspace. It will also allow controllers to better accommodate pilot requests for the best routing and altitude to reduce fuel burn, something that’s not always possible now.

It brings another benefit. Aircraft equipped with the technology will never be out of view, reducing the changes of another Malaysia Flight 370, which went missing in 2014 during a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. It’s presumed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean but the exact site has never been found.

Over the coming months, Nav Canada controllers will begin putting the space-based data to use, starting with flights over the North Atlantic and Canada’s northern region.

“They’re now getting spooled up on how to take advantage of that space-based ADS-B to provide safe but efficient tracks,” Bellingham said of controllers.

“They’re going to do it phased but from day one, they’re going to be separating aircraft closer than they are today.”

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier


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Liberals’ 2019 budget to include partial prescription drugs coverage: report – National


OTTAWA/TORONTO — The federal Liberal government will propose a limited expansion to the country’s universal healthcare system in the spring budget, to cover part of the cost of prescription drugs, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The modest broadening of the healthcare program is set to become one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s key campaign promises ahead of the October election, which is shaping up to be a close fight.

READ MORE: Low-income families no longer pay deductibles on prescription drugs in B.C.

The government would not commit to meeting 100 per cent of the cost of prescription drugs for those who have no insurance through their workplace, the sources said. That suggests the government is leaning toward a narrower, more insurance industry-friendly model of pharmacare, as it is called, than that recommended by a government health committee last year.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau declined to comment.

Officials have yet to decide how much detail to provide about the pharmacare system in the budget, which is expected in the week of March 18, the sources said. They may release a general commitment to boost coverage and leave the specifics for the campaign, they added.

WATCH: Concerns generic drug price drop could lead to shortages

But new information on pharmacare’s inclusion in the spring budget and its limited scope gives a first glimpse of the government’s blueprint for what has been called the “unfinished business” of Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system.

The sources, who spoke in recent days, requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.


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Premier John Horgan opens door to including dental coverage within B.C.’s health care system


B.C. Premier John Horgan is not opposed to the idea of the province covering dental care as part of the provincial health care system.

Horgan was asked about the issue as part of a year-end interview with Global News.

“We have been looking at it and hopefully we will be able to do something about it in the next budget,” Horgan said.

WATCH: March 2018 — B.C. to increase number of annual dental surgeries

The Ontario NDP unveiled a campaign promise in March in to extend dental care to people in the country’s most populated province without insurance coverage.

The NDP estimated the plan would provide dental benefits to 4.5 million Ontarians at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath pitches public dental plan

The plan would cover basic procedures such as dentures, exams, X-rays, fillings, cleanings and restorative work.

“It would take pressure off of our doctors’ offices, and off of our hospitals, where people are now forced to go when they’re in absolute crisis when it comes to their mouth and their oral health and their dental needs,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said during the election campaign.

Horwath is now the leader of the official opposition, losing to current Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Under the plan, public cash would cover care for seniors without insurance and those on social assistance.

For employers, the NDP would make offering a minimum standard of dental coverage mandatory, including for part-time and contract workers.

Overcoming barriers to affordable dental care

British Columbia’s Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums currently cover medically necessary services provided by physicians and midwives, dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital, eye examinations that are medically required and some orthodontic services.

Horgan said that his own experience has made it clear to him how important dental services are.

WATCH: March 2018 — Vulnerable B.C. children will have quicker access to dental surgery

“I got my two front teeth knocked out playing basketball when I was a kid and it meant that I was always tentative about smiling. Dental care, dental health is critically important to physical well being as well as mental well being,” Horgan said.

“I believe it’s an area we need to move into with kids and get good habits with good oral hygiene and make sure that is funded.”

Is better training the answer to cutting wait times for dental surgery?

In 2008, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) supported a motion to ask the province to take immediate steps to remove access barriers to dental health care, allocate more funding for basic dental health care insurance for low income individuals and families in the province, and work with the BC Dental Association to resolve the discrepancy between the BC Dental Fee guide and the actual fees charged by dentists.

In 2018, UBCM discussed requiring the Ministry of Health to add basic dental care to MSP coverage and to have B.C. mandate a provincial requirement for all public water source treatment to include fluoridation where naturally-occurring levels do not meet the minimum suggested level of 0.07mg/L.

  • With files from Kerri Breen

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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