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HeliTorque :: View topic - North Sea multi-lateration air traffic system goes live
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HeliTorque Forum Index » Offshore, Onshore & Utility

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North Sea multi-lateration air traffic system goes live
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:13 pm    Post subject: North Sea multi-lateration air traffic system goes live Reply with quote

December 13, 2010

An air traffic control system designed to monitor the busy helicopter traffic in the North Sea has finally gone live.

The North Sea Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) surveillance system went active on 11 December, giving air traffic controllers a much-needed radar-like picture of air traffic operating near the various North Sea oil and gas platforms.

The first aircraft to use the system in anger was a Bond Offshore Helicopters flight.

Until now controllers have only been able to monitor 80 miles offshore – the limit of shore based ground radar – but many of the platforms are situated further out, forcing the need for complex procedures to keep helicopters spaced and operating at different heights.

The Sensis-designed system uses signal transmitters and receivers fitted to 16 offshore oil and gas platforms (four clusters of four platforms) in the central area of the North Sea to track and identify individual helicopters across 25,000 square miles of sea, in real time.

This delivers a radar-like picture, allowing air traffickers to follow flights from runway to platform keeping safe separation between helicopters and providing vital details on helicopters’ locations in the event of an emergency.

'This is a major step forward for safety, as we can offer a traffic service to aircraft in the North Sea and pinpoint helicopters in emergency situations,' said John Mayhew, National Air Traffic Services (NATS) general manager for Aberdeen.

'It also enables more direct routing of helicopters to and from offshore platforms, which delivers environmental and efficiency benefits.'

The system had been due to go into operation in June but technical problems meant that although the system was working, controllers were only able to use it in flight-following mode and not use it to give instructions to crews.

The Oil & Gas UK Helicopter Task Group – now disbanded – was heavily involved in helping to expedite delivery of the multi-lateration system. The project began in 2004 and was officially unveiled last year. Since then successful flight trials have taken place, the system optimised and training undertaken by air traffic control staff.

Robert Paterson, health, safety and employment issues director with Oil & Gas UK, welcomed the launch, saying: 'This is a considerable step forward in helicopter safety and typifies the sterling work done by the Helicopter Task Group – to drive important safety-related projects to a successful conclusion.'

'Sensis pioneered the concept of using WAM for surveillance of oil platform flights in the Gulf of Mexico with the Helicopter In-flight Tracking System trial for NASA,' said Ken Kaminski, vice president and general manager of Sensis Air Traffic Systems.

'With the North Sea system becoming the first of its kind to be certified for air traffic control, we have further proven WAM as an effective, efficient surveillance solution for these challenging environments.'

By Tony Osborne, London
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