Iridium, Nav Canada JV to track planes by satellite

Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:36pm EDT
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By Sagarika Jaisinghani

(Reuters) - Satellite communications company Iridium Communications Inc (IRDM.O: Quote) and air navigation service provider Nav Canada plan to offer air traffic authorities the ability to track aircraft around the globe in real time, potentially saving billions in airline costs.

The joint venture, to be named Aireon LLC, will enable airplanes to fly longer in better weather, saving airlines $6 billion to $8 billion in the North Atlantic and the North and Central Pacific alone, Russell Chew, former chief operating officer of the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency, said at its launch.

Currently, air traffic authorities need to keep aircraft widely-spaced due to the lack of radar visibility over oceanic airspace and mountainous terrain. This leads to longer flights, higher fuel costs and larger carbon emissions.

"(The new service) isn't to replace ground-based surveillance systems. This is to augment them," said Chew, a managing partner at Nexa Capital Partners LLC and a consultant to Iridium.

"Ground-based systems can do things in congested areas that space-based systems can't."

Privately held Nav Canada, which manages air traffic over Canada, will be Aireon's first customer, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said.

"I hope the FAA is our second customer," Desch told Reuters.

The FAA is already looking to implement a satellite navigation system to allow planes to fly shorter, more precise routes that will help decongest the airspace around airports.   Continued...