Air traffic controllers at EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) can now rely on a new technology to further improve their situational awareness. Using triangulation software, the Radio Direction Finder, recently deployed throughout MUAC’s international airspace (the upper airspace of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and north-west Germany) calculates accurately an aircraft’s position on the basis of its radio transmissions.
In densely occupied airspace, the Radio Direction Finder assists the controllers in rapidly identifying which aircraft is transmitting on the frequency. This is particularly useful in MUAC’s sectors where controllers handle up to 25 aircraft at any one time, and is a prerequisite for the implementation of the free route airspace, planned at the end of the year. The origin of a voice transmission appears clearly on the controller’s integrated Human Machine Interface and is totally independent of conventional radar- and GPS-based aircraft localising techniques; this feature contributes to reducing call sign confusion, read-backs from wrong aircraft or crossed transmissions.
To ensure reliable coverage, 4 Radio Direction Finder units have been deployed across Belgium, the Netherlands and north-west Germany, and 3 more will follow before the summer resulting in a minimum coverage by 3 Radio Direction Finder units per aircraft in MUAC airspace.
With some 5,500 flights controlled on peak days and 80% of the traffic climbing from and descending to Europe’s major hub airports, MUAC airspace is not only very dense but also complex. Traffic in 2016 increased, far beyond forecasts, by 4.6%, equating to 78,000 additional flights when compared to the previous year. The latest technologies are therefore required to further improve safety and efficiency.
The Radio Direction Finder is financed by the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) to the tune of 2.3 million €.
With the Radio Direction Finder, the transmitting aircraft can be clearly identified on the controller’s screen.