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A low flight network based on satellite positioning would enable more efficient use of lower airspace in the future

Published on 19.1.2022

Last edited on 5.8.2022

Did you know that in the future rescue authorities will be able to reach incident scenes more quickly by taking advantage of lower flight altitudes? And that flying at lower altitudes would be safer in the future even in more challenging weather conditions? What is the low flight network and what benefits would it bring to aviation operators? What would be the most sensible way to implement the deployment, and what changes would it require in terms of legislation and technology?

The low flight network refers to a route network based on satellite positioning and to instrument approach procedures that would allow efficient aviation operations also when the weather conditions are poorer. The low flight network would consist of two interrelated elements; a route network across the country and approach procedures to certain aerodromes.

“Low flight network routes could be established between destinations deemed necessary or to cover the entire country. These routes would be linked to aerodrome approach procedures, which could also exist for uncontrolled aerodromes, selected emergency landing places or other locations deemed appropriate, such as certain geographical sites or marine areas”, says Teppo Asanti, Head of ASM at Fintraffic Air Navigation Services. Asanti chaired the working group that studied the project.

The key benefits of the network are the impacts on national readiness and the safety infrastructure, as it would enable safe and flexible instrument flight operations at low altitudes. This would make it possible to speed up response times for rescue services and emergency medical services, for example. The operating conditions for military aviation would also be improved by increasing navigation and approach services in terms of time, scope and procedures.

“A separate route network would in some places allow for safe flight altitudes lower than the current operating environment, increasing the flexibility of airspace use. In addition to the authorities, an interest has been identified in the field of general aviation in the opportunities offered by the low flight network to conduct instrument flight operations at uncontrolled
aerodromes, as the low flight network would improve the accessibility of uncontrolled aerodromes”, Asanti continues.

The network calls for changes to Finnish aviation legislation

The starting point for the design of the low flight network is that navigation would be based solely on the use of the satellite-based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and would therefore not require any separate navigation infrastructure on the ground. As a preparedness procedure for exceptional situations, it would be possible to rely on available navigation equipment on the ground to the extent that would also be done in normal operations. In this respect, the introduction of a low flight network would not impose additional requirements on the equipment infrastructure on the ground.

“However, the available GNSS systems and services relying on them are constantly being developed. The benefits of the development would only be materialised in the coming years, and in some respects their utilisation will also require updates to the aircraft’s existing equipment systems”, Asanti says.

During the course of the study of the low flight network, a government proposal to amend the Aviation Act and certain related laws has been under preparation.

“The Government’s legislative project has examined the main needs for changes in aviation regulation due to recent developments in the aviation operating environment and EU regulations, as well as legislative technicalities. The construction of a low flight network requires a review of several decrees and regulations”, Asanti says.

Gradual introduction found to be the most viable option

The greatest operational benefits of a low flight network would be achieved when it covers the entire country. However, implementing a large entity at once is challenging and would significantly extend the potential deployment schedule. The fastest way to implement a low flight network would most likely be a gradual deployment of the network, which would at the same time allow the utilisation of initial operational experiences as part of further planning.

“In a gradual deployment, the first phase would be to establish the routes identified as the most crucial by the authorities. These include approximately 20 route sections, after which the network could be expanded as needed. However, there are still key issues to be resolved about the principles of airspace use and other topical issues in the lower airspace”, Asanti says.

One of the key issues in the development of lower airspace use is how to reconcile the various interests related to lower airspace and enable every operator to have a level playing field. In addition to the authorities, these actors include unmanned aviation as a whole as well as general aviation.

“Airspace management should be dynamic and the priorities of airspace use clear. Other actors that may have an impact, such as wind power projects, must also be taken into account. The challenge is to improve certain operating conditions, without limiting the activities of others and without undermining safety”, Asanti says.

Development of lower airspace as part of the Fintraffic air navigation strategy

There is no general internationally defined concept of a low flight network, so a model that is as appropriate as possible can be created nationally in line with certain framework conditions. In the next few years, the lower airspace is expected to be subject to several changes, the low flight network being one of the most important ones, if established. The development of the lower airspace is already a part of the strategy of Fintraffic Air Navigation Services.

“We are a key player nationwide, and we are in excellent position to implement and maintain a low flight network. The low flight network will be created in close cooperation with different actors, which supports our value of working together. It is great that we are able to take development work forward in accordance with our strategy and values”, Asanti mentions.

The purpose of the study of the low flight network was to survey the conditions for the establishment of a low flight network in Finland and the impact of setting up the network. The study was carried out together with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Defence, the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom), the Finnish Defence Forces, the Finnish Air Force, the Finnish Army Aviation, the Finnish Border Guard, FinnHEMS Flight Services Ltd and Fintraffic Air Navigation Services.

Read the full study here: Low flight network — Report on options for implementation (valtioneuvosto.fi):

 

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