By Tamara Casey,
Ligado Networks Chief Technology Officer
When it comes to safety of life, there are very few jobs with more daunting challenges than those faced by pilots. Being responsible for the lives of passengers is a powerful motive for having the equipment and tools necessary to do the job in a manner that not only ensures safety but also inspires passenger confidence.
As a pilot for nearly 30 years, I am aware of air safety considerations faced by the men and women who fly aircraft every day. In addition to friends and family members who are pilots, flight instructors and air traffic controllers, I’m especially proud to trace my aviation roots to my grandfather, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. I appreciate that pilots, in particular, must be versatile and possess a high degree of knowledge when it comes to the navigation and operation of a dashboard full of instruments in any aircraft’s cockpit. Talk about mission-critical, and every pilot gets it.
Those two words, mission-critical, are words I take very seriously. Earlier this year, I joined Ligado Networks as its chief technology officer because I saw a unique opportunity to advance technology to better all our lives by improving the safety and reliability of the communications systems on which we all depend.
Our company already provides ubiquitous satellite communications coverage throughout North America. Utilizing a 22-meter reflector-based antenna – the largest satellite reflector to be put into service on a commercial satellite – we deliver crucial connectivity to pilots, first responders and a host of other government and enterprise users on land and at sea.
And these services are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the capabilities of our satellite. Every day, our team of engineers strives to improve the services we provide to our customers. While we already provide in-flight connectivity to the aviation industry, moving forward we plan to expand those offerings to deliver additional advancements in connectivity and safety.
Specifically, we are looking to utilize part of our spectrum to enable a hybrid satellite-terrestrial network. This type of network would deliver significantly greater reliability, security and pervasive next-generation connectivity to an array of devices across all of these sectors. Our satellite is a key enabler for many commercial, beyond-line-of-sight applications, enhancing redundant communications for a range of critical systems related not just to emergency preparedness but also to the rapidly expanding markets for highly automated vehicles and the mobile Internet of Things (IoT).
Additionally, our network can provide connectivity to the services offered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) NextGen System Wide Information Management System (SWIM). According to the FAA:
“SWIM facilitates the data sharing requirements for NextGen, providing the digital data-sharing backbone of NextGen. SWIM enables increased common situational awareness and improved National Airspace System agility to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time. This information-sharing platform offers a single point of access for aviation data, with producers of data publishing it once and users accessing the information they need through a single connection.”
Together, our satellite and ground-based network can provide secure and highly reliable access to this wealth of aviation information essential to operating in the NextGen environment.
As an engineer, these are the types of technology challenges we dream about solving. As a pilot, I tremendously value GPS and other in-flight communications services to safely get from point A to point B.
I can attest to that same appreciation extending across our entire company. I want to emphasize our unwavering commitment to promoting technological advancements designed to improve the security and reliability of our country’s communications networks – particularly for the kind of mission-critical infrastructure needs of the transportation and public safety sectors.
Later today, our company is making a filing at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the public proceeding to modify our licenses to enable the type of next-generation networks I just described. As the lead engineer for our efforts, I want to emphasize our position: We are proposing to defer to the FAA in establishing the appropriate power levels and out-of-band emissions limits to meet aviation safety standards. Specifically:
- We have agreed to comply with and fully support current and future FAA standards. Since December, we’ve been in ongoing discussions with the FAA to address necessary safe power limits as well as the process by which the federal agency can ensure our compliance without imposing undue burdens on its staff. I can’t underscore enough our commitment to the FAA process and doing whatever it takes to satisfy and comply with agency standards.
- We agree that evaluation of interference must be based upon technical determinations by the very competent FAA aviation safety experts as well as the industry experts assembled by RTCA Inc. We will lower the power of our terrestrial operations in the 1526 MHz – 1536 MHz band on a nationwide basis, and we will continue our cooperative efforts with the FAA, RTCA and GPS manufacturers in order to ensure there are no impacts to certified civil aviation GPS receivers. Underscoring that our approach is compatible with GPS equipment, we have signed agreements with the three largest GPS manufacturers and continue to collaborate and engage with virtually every other major manufacturer.
- As home to the world’s finest aviation-safety experts, we respect and appreciate the FAA’s thorough and established review process to ensure safety. We are confident the agency will conduct a transparent process that will enable the company to establish the parameters at which Ligado must operate, and we have full faith in the FAA and FCC’s abilities to coordinate on the critical issues surrounding aviation safety.
That spirit of cooperation has become the hallmark of our company. It’s why Ligado so intricately engaged with the Aerospace and Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC) about protecting the critical flight test spectrum between 1435 MHz and 1525 MHz. Those collaborative efforts resulted in a coordination agreement resolving AFTRCC’s concerns with regard to flight-test spectrum and also led to relevant aviation industry leadership’s expression of support for the agreement.
Aviation operators are key customers for our network so we consider ourselves to be part of the aviation community. Consequently, Ligado is highly motivated to develop and solve any and all potential interference problems. As we move forward to build the infrastructure needed for tomorrow’s economy, we look forward to continuing an open and transparent process that always puts safety first.