GNSS: welcome to the satellite era

Rick Farnworth

Rick Farnworth

Navigation Expert at the EEC

More than 90% of commercial aircraft are now fitted with satellite navigation systems. Rick Farnworth is a pioneer in this field. For more than 20 years, he has been facilitating their use in Europe from the EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre (EEC).

When you arrived in Brétigny in 1996, what was the status of satellite navigation?

At that time, the well-known American satellite positioning system GPS* was emerging. In parallel, Europe launched its own strategy with the EGNOS** and Galileo systems. The only problem was that the navigation requirements in force at the time were not compatible with the EGNOS and Galileo systems. The EEC therefore set up a centre of expertise on the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and quickly acquired international recognition for its know-how in this field. The stakes were high, because GNSS allowed air routes to be defined in line with users’ needs, irrespective of the location of the traditional ground based aids and with absolutely no negative impact on the quality of navigation.”

What role did the EEC play in this adventure?

In order for the States to use these satellite systems, they needed to be certified and approved. This led to pioneer research programmes in the field of safety, for example on systems which increased the precision and reliability of satellite navigation. Over the course of time, the more we worked on it, the more expertise we developed – based on the sharing of experience between pilots, controllers, regulatory bodies, etc. We are currently seeking to improve the criteria for the use of GNSS by aviation. The EEC also made a major contribution to the development of the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in this regard.”

Did operational testing and validation of these standards allow you to develop tools?

Yes. Pegasus has become a reference for the aeronautical industry for assessing the performance of satellite navigation systems. We are currently upgrading it to test Galileo and its constellation of 24 satellites, which are in the process of being deployed. This system is due to come into service in 2020. Our challenge is to draw the most benefits from it for aviation.”

* GPS: Global Positioning System

** EGNOS: European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service