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Brisbane tech tracking aircraft in real-time in outback

30 April 2021

A Brisbane company has come up with a highly innovative way of tracking aircraft flying over remote areas, ensuring pilot and passenger safety.

Tracking aircraft flying in the outback is a big issue.

Current Satellite technology generally only tracks aircraft at two-minute intervals, meaning that sometimes aircraft fly significant distance between location reports.

For aircraft flying in remote areas, such as far western Queensland, this can be a real concern. It’s very important to keep a constant eye on those aircraft, not only in terms of safety, but also informing expected arrival times – critical in terms of logistics and planning when transporting goods and people.

SkyNet Aviation, based in Newmarket, has developed technology that can track aircraft at up to one second intervals, far exceeding current technology.

SkyNet uses their commercial version of “Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast” (ADS-B) coupled with their own software platform that integrates both satellite data and terrestrial ground ADS-B receivers, which the company manufactures, in Queensland.

SkyNet Aviation received a $100,000 in Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas funding in 2020 to help them commercialise their product.
SkyNet Aviation’s Managing Director and CEO Jon Davis said no one else in the industry offered a dedicated commercial ADS-B network with the ability to install ground receivers in locations for client-specific benefit to cover their network structure.

“The SkyNet REACH Day of Operations is a unique monitoring platform combining multi source aircraft location data from SkyNet’s commercial ADS-B, cellular and satellite data network – offering position reporting at up to 1 second intervals,” Mr Davis said.

He said there were existing free ADS-B networks providing public data, but unfortunately it contained many gaps or no coverage at all as flight routes extended away from populated areas and no guarantee of quality of service.

“We have struck deals with a number of companies and agencies that operate in remote areas, including the Torres Strait and Timor Sea off-shore oil platforms. We’re currently looking at expanding our service into the European market, with the establishment of an office in London.

“We also have some very good contracts with resources companies operating in Papua New Guinea, substantially improving flight safety.

“We build everything here in Queensland, from the software to the ground receivers. This makes what we offer quite unique and is an excellent example of Queensland innovation and technology in action.

“Ultimately, we provide our clients with world-class 24/7 capabilities to manage their aircraft fleets. They can see their locations, routes and weather for their whole fleet across remote areas live.”

One of SkyNet Aviation’s clients is the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Queensland, which uses the technology for its fleet of 20 aircraft.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) CEO Meredith Staib said the SkyNet ADS-B system provided the organisation visibility over their aircraft at more frequent intervals, ensuring the RFDS had greater accuracy around aircraft arrival times.

“This means we can coordinate with our colleagues at Queensland Ambulance Service with more precise information to ensure we can transfer patients quicker and with greater ease,” Ms Staib said.

“This results in less waiting time for patients, which is particularly important for patients requiring urgent critical care.”
She said the SkyNet ADS-B operated via 40 specialised receivers located right across Queensland which track RFDS aircraft every second.

SkyNet Aviation has a strong innovation ethos, with a research and development part and parcel of their business model. It spends year on year in excess of $1million on research and development – to make sure they are always at the cutting-edge of the sector.
To date, they’ve invested about $10 million of their own funds in research and development.

The business started as a support service for the Australian Defence Force during the First Iraq War in the 1990s carrying equipment and parts – at a time when the only aircraft tracking capability was a whiteboard at the departure airport.
They built their own tracking system from scratch based on the limited technology of the day.

When the Iraq war wound down, so did the military need – so the company pivoted to the civilian aviation market