A win-win scene awaits aviation sector; aircraft to get more accurate figures

Sometime in mid-2013, flyers on the Bangalore-Delhi route may be arriving at their destination 15-20 minutes ahead of schedule. Aircraft need not go zigzag but may go almost as the crow flies and burn less fuel and money. Airports can see less congestion, and fog may become a lesser evil.

It is not a miracle in the skies but when it happens, it will be thanks to Gagan, the country’s space-based GPS augmentation system.

The GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (Gagan) is a part of the modernisation plan for air traffic management and communication-navigation-surveillance system as mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In the long term, its win-all benefits, as estimated by some studies, could run into several hundred crores of rupees.

Now that the country’s second Gagan payload is up with the latest communications satellite GSAT-10, Gagan will be made operational in June or July 2013, according to a senior Airports Authority of India (AAI) official.

With a Gagan-enhanced GPS device, aircraft will get far more accurate figures while landing, take-off and in-flight, say within 10 metres of the spot compared to the earlier figure of 70 metres. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is expected to certify the system by the middle of next year, after which the services will roll out, the official, who is working closely with the system but did not want to be named, said.

All aircraft flying within and into the country need to install a small patch of sensor or receiver to get Gagan signals. New aircraft will come fitted with it, while older ones have to be retrofitted. It may cost airlines $2,000-5,000 apiece, the official said.

The AAI and ISRO have jointly developed the three-antenna Gagan worth Rs.770 crore. The first payload was put up in 2011 on GSAT-8 and the third will be sent up in the coming months on GSAT-9.

One antenna is enough to start the operations. The civil aviation sector needs the other two as standbys to ensure the continuity of the service, said T.K. Alex, Vikram Sarabhai Professor and until recently Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore. The now ubiquitous GPS, a U.S. military system that is being shared globally, however, shows many inaccuracies, which Gagan has fine-tuned and made a lot more reliable and hence safe for lives, he said. Small town airports need not invest in ground instruments such as the instrument landing system.

Once Gagan gets going, India would join the U.S., Europe and Japan who have the same level of space-based augmentation. This would enable seamless air navigation across these regions, Dr. Alex said.

Next, the country needs to look out for the IRNSS, the ISRO-sponsored Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System of seven spacecraft. It will be a mini GPS extending about 1,500 km across South Asia.

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