Austro Control: satellite solutions for improved flight safety

The Authority 

Austro Control is the Air Navigation Service Provider responsible for maintaining top quality standards of safety and punctuality for airlines and passengers crossing Austrian airspace. With around 4,000 daily flights, the public authority is tasked with securing a smooth and safe air traffic. In December 2006 the company received the Single European Sky certification which allows it to provide air traffic control services in the European Union.  

The challenges

The Alpine location of some of the main airports in Austria such as in Innsbruck, Linz and Graz entails tremendous terrain challenges for flight navigation. Weather conditions together with mountain proximity, make landing and takeoff challenging, even for experienced pilots. Harsh weather conditions, especially during winter time, regularly force operators to delay or re-route flights which increase operation costs and affect the local tourism industry.

The satellite solution

In 2012 Austro Control decided to equip the airports in Linz and Graz with EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System), the first European satellite navigation system. The use of this system improves the accuracy and precision of GPS signals which can thus enable successful landings and takeoffs, even in low-visibility or bad weather conditions. Also, EGNOS enhanced the so called “lower decision height”, a series of manoeuvres implemented during the descent phase to allow for a precise landing of the airplane. This is especially effective in cases where the required visual reference to continue the approach is not visible to the pilot.

The results

These new procedures contributed to the decrease of the initial high flight diversion rates. The new system improved the positional accuracy allowing for better quality technical and safety standards for landing and arrival procedures. Moreover, the great benefit of these procedures lies in the fact that there were no investments necessary, and so big results were achieved through cost effective solutions. Further, Austro Control is now testing the Points in Space (PinS) project which aims to provide satellite based approach procedures for helicopters landings for emergency medical services on mountainous terrain.