Aircraft in Europe can now use satellite-based navigation signals for vertical guidance during landing approaches.
The EGNOS Safety-of-Life signal was formally declared available to aviation on Wednesday 2 March. For the first time, space-based navigation signals have become officially usable for the critical task of vertically guiding aircraft during landing approaches.
By using three satellites and a 40-strong network of ground stations, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS) sharpens the accuracy of GPS satnav signals across Europe.
The EGNOS Open Service was launched in October 2009, for navigation applications where the safety of human life is not at stake, such as personal navigation, goods tracking and precision farming.
The Safety-Of-Life signals are guaranteed to the extremely high reliability set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation standard, adapted for Europe by Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.
"Through EGNOS, satellite navigation guidance is being made available for the first time in the vertical as well as horizontal domain," explained Francisco Salabert of Eurocontrol.
"EGNOS offers the aviation industry the means to provide accurate and safe vertically guided approaches to smaller airports where a conventional precision landing system is not today economically viable. Its introduction will reduce delays, diversions and cancellations of flights into and out of these airfields while improving passenger safety."
In order to use EGNOS for approaches, Air Navigation Service Providers must publish runway procedures and aircraft and operators have to be equipped with certified receivers and be approved for operations.
Some 15 years in the making, EGNOS is the result of a tripartite agreement between ESA, the European Commission (EC) and Eurocontrol.
As initial EGNOS programme manager, ESA designed, qualified and procured the system from a consortium led by Thales Alenia Space France. Overall programme management passed to the EC in 2009. The system's day-to-day running is overseen by the Toulouse-based European Satellite Service Provider (ESSP).
Meeting the aviation industry's demanding safety requirements, set by Eurocontrol, posed the real challenge for EGNOS's Safety-of-Life service.
ESA produced much of the technical documentation needed for formal safety certification, while Eurocontrol performed independent monitoring of EGNOS performance.