The future of navigation

On 18 June, DFS, the German air navigation service provider, introduced new area navigation procedures at four airports in the north of Germany. By using satellite signals, approach and departure routes can be designed more flexibly and precisely, which means less noise and better climate protection. Three omnidirectional radio beacons are now no longer needed in the region. DFS is thus also helping to create the conditions for the expansion of wind power in the north of Germany.

23.06.2020.- The introduction of satellite-based navigation procedures at four airports in northern Germany (Hamburg Fuhlsbüttel, Hamburg Finkenwerder, Kiel and Lübeck) is part of a comprehensive innovation programme. By 2030, the flight procedures at the more than 60 German aerodromes will gradually be converted to the high-precision area navigation procedures that use satellite navigation. Approximately 2,500 arrival and departure procedures will have to be redesigned for this purpose. These new navigation procedures allow for greater precision in approaches and departures and permit a more flexible flight route design that will improve the flow of traffic. The initiative was taken in response to the long-term upward trend in the demand for capacity in German airspace.

Many aircraft already use satellite navigation – but not all
By using modern area navigation methods, DFS is making an active contribution to boosting efficiency and improving environmental and climate protection. "This step sees DFS complete the transition from conventional terrestrial to modern satellite-based area navigation," said Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, DFS CEO. This has been made possible because around 95 percent of the aircraft operating in Germany are now equipped with the appropriate on-board receivers. However, such equipment is not mandatory. DFS will continue to offer conventional solutions for the remaining aircraft. These aircraft use navigation equipment on the ground, so-called omnidirectional radio beacons, to determine their position. There are 55 such ground-based facilities in Germany.

With the introduction of the new procedures in northern Germany, DFS can now reduce the number of navigation facilities. The Michaelsdorf facility in Schleswig-Holstein in the far north of Germany was switched off on 18 June. This also means that the Elbe and Lübeck facilities, which had already been switched off, do not have to be rebuilt. "With the introduction of the new procedures throughout Germany, we can successively reduce the number of ground-based navigation facilities and also enable the further expansion of wind energy – all while safeguarding the safety interests of air traffic control," said Scheurle. Since wind turbines can interfere with the signals of navigation systems, the number of wind turbines that can be erected in the vicinity of an omnidirectional beacon is limited.

"Additional boost for wind power expansion"
In the long term, DFS could even do without the majority of the 55 beacons currently in use. The prerequisite for this is the creation of a legal basis requiring all airspace users to equip their aircraft with GPS receivers. In this case, DFS would only need one third of the current beacons, to be used as emergency infrastructure if GPS data was not available. "DFS is already making it possible to approve more wind turbines in the vicinity of navigation facilities by using a modified new evaluation method to measure potential interference," said Scheurle. "The mandatory equipment of cockpits with modern GPS would give an additional boost to the expansion of wind power. But for this we need a government decision."
Satellite-based navigation has been the standard in German airspace for en-route flights for over 20 years. For approaches and departures, special requirements apply to the accuracy of the navigation signals due to the traffic density and the obstacle hazards. The number of GPS satellites in orbit available today now guarantees this standard. This is why the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has published a concept for (area) navigation based on specific performance parameters of aircraft (performance-based navigation), which the European Commission wants to implement in European airspace by 2030.

Flight routes remain unchanged for the time being
For the time being, DFS is deliberately not changing the routing of arriving and departing aircraft at the airports in question. These routes have been tried and tested and have been agreed in the respective noise abatement commissions. However, the new source for navigation signals will allow navigation points to be shifted flexibly in the future in order to be able to respond to changing requirements in terms of capacity, noise and climate protection. 

Media contact:
Anja Naumann
Telephone +49 (0)421 5372 -116

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,600 employees as at 31 December 2019. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Around 2,200 air traffic controllers guide up to 10,000 flights in German airspace every day, more than three million movements every year. This makes Germany the country with the highest traffic volume in Europe. The company operates control centres in Langen, Bremen, Karlsruhe and Munich as well as control towers at the 16 designated international airports in Germany. The subsidiary DFS Aviation Services GmbH markets and sells products and services related to air navigation services, and provides air traffic control at nine regional airports in Germany and at London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport in the UK. DFS has been working on the integration of drones into air traffic since 2016 and has set up a joint venture, Droniq GmbH, with Deutsche Telekom.