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Burma looks into space-based air surveillance

The view from an airplane flying from Mandalay to Bangkok. Air traffic over Burma has increased steadily in recent years, but is difficult to track in remote regions. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with US-based aeronautical technology company Aireon LLC to explore the possibility of introducing a spaced-based system to increase surveillance of the country’s airspace.

The system, known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), would allow the DCA to improve its capacity to monitor air traffic through Burmese airspace without having to invest heavily in on-the-ground infrastructure.

Soe Paing, the DCA’s director of air navigation safety, said in a press statement released by Aireon that the system could help the country to maintain safety standards as it struggles to keep up with a rapid growth in air travel, fueled by a boom in tourism and investment after decades of isolation.

“We are growing at almost 10 percent annually and need to ensure that airspace safety is one of our top priorities. The Aireon service will offer us increased safety and visibility that exceeds the capabilities of ground-based infrastructure,” he said, adding that Burma faces “many challenges installing ground-based surveillance solutions, due to the remote and diverse terrain in our region.”

The agreement was announced by Aireon on Monday. Aireon is partnered with Nasdaq-listed Iridium Communications, which operates a system of 66 active satellites covering the entire planet, including poles, oceans and airways. Both companies are based in McLean, Virginia.

According to Flyer, a website that focuses on the international aviation industry, ADS-B technology provides “near-real-time” coverage of all of the world’s airspace, including remote regions and areas over oceans that are not covered by land-based surveillance systems.

It also said that the technology could be used to assist in the search for “black boxes” — recording devices used to help determine the cause of crashes and other incidents involving downed aircraft.

Aireon also works in cooperation with the national aviation authorities of Canada, Ireland, Denmark and Italy, and has recently signed a data service agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.