The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has approved the use of satellites to support voice and data communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. The approval was announced in Dubai at World Radio Congress in December 2023. This approval will lead to substantial improvements in the safety, sustainability, efficiency and passenger experience of air transport.

Voice and data radio communications in the VHF band are used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. VHF radios are standard aircraft equipment around the world and are vital in ensuring the safety of air travel. Currently, VHF voice communications services are only available when the aircraft is within range of a ground-based radio. This means that large areas of the Earth’s surface, including much of the world’s oceans, are not covered. The use of satellites in place of ground-based radio systems will enable seamless global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers for the first time.

The use of space-enabled services supporting pilots and air traffic controllers will:

  • Improve safety by providing real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain correct separations between aircraft.
  • Reduce environmental emissions from aviation by allowing the most efficient routes to be flown by aircraft.
  • Increase efficiency of the aviation industry by reducing fuel consumption and reducing flight delays.
  • Improve the passenger experience by improving on-time performance. The cost of flight delays in the United States, Europe and Australia has been estimated at US$67.5 billion per year1.

The approval follows Skykraft’s world-first demonstration of space-to-ground voice communications systems operating in the VHF band, carried out in south-western Australia in July 2023. Skykraft’s trial of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band demonstrates the feasibility of satellite communication directly with aircraft using existing equipment.

“The approval of satellite-enabled communications between pilots and air traffic controllers is an important milestone for the aviation industry,” said Dr Michael Frater, CEO of Skykraft. “Skykraft looks forward to using this approval to contribute to global goals to improve safety, sustainability and efficiency in the aviation industry.”

Skykraft is developing a constellation of satellites to provide VHF-band communications services and surveillance services to track aircraft from 2025.

Skykraft’s Air Traffic Management Constellation

Skykraft is in the process of building a large (dense) constellation of satellites in low-earth orbit to provide global air traffic management services from space, providing:

  • VHF voice communications.
  • VHF data communications.
  • Surveillance services using ADS-B and UAT.
  • Multilateration services for: validation of ADS-B and UAT messages received from aircraft, and
  • independent aircraft position data in the event of GNSS failure.

Skykraft’s initial constellation will enter service in 2025.