SPACE AGE: Coffs Harbour's historic control tower is about to see technology take a great leap forward.
SPACE AGE: Coffs Harbour's historic control tower is about to see technology take a great leap forward. Trevor Veale

Airport tracking is heading for the stars

COMMUNICATIONS and following flight plans at Coffs Harbour Regional Airport have come a long way since the control tower switched on more than three decades ago.

Analogue ground-to-air microphones and radar tracking were quickly overtaken by newfangled digital technology but now the Australian Government is delivering more accurate GPS systems for aeroplanes which will make regional aviation safer and more efficient.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the technology is being trialled on specially fitted out aircraft under the Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for Australia and New Zealand.

"Having a complete understanding of how the aviation industry sector can fully benefit from SBAS technology is crucial to the success of this trial,” he said.

"Highly accurate and reliable satellite positioning technology has the potential to improve the safety and efficiency of regional airlines.

"Research tells us SBAS-assisted aircraft approaches are eight times safer than those using ground based navigation aids.

"This technology has the potential to revolutionise air transport in remote and regional areas, providing pilots with accurate vertical guidance for landing procedures and improved situation awareness anywhere across Australia.

"It will also mean fewer cancelled or diverted flights by giving pilots access to better aircraft positioning than what is available today.”

The project being coordinated by Airservices Australia still has some way to go.

At present the technology is not as precise as it needs to be for more advanced uses, being accurate to within 5-10 metres only.

However, when the first signal was turned on in June last year at Lockheed Martin's uplink station in Uralla it improved GPS positioning across the entire continent.

Research shows the wide-spread adoption of improved positioning technology has the potential to generate upwards of $73 billion of value to Australia by 2030 with benefits spreading to road and rail transport.