What is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)?

Women looking at flight information at airport

The global aviation industry uses ADS-B tracking to improve passenger and aircraft safety, decrease carbon emissions, and reduce airline operator costs. It has become a vital tool for pilots and ATCs to assist in decision-making.

It sends an aircraft’s live GPS location, elevation, speed, distance from nearby aircraft, and other essential data to ground stations and nearby aircraft for situational awareness and lower collision risks.

This article will discuss ADS-B and its significance in aviation.

What is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast?

Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS) is a monitoring technology in which aircraft transmit data from on-board positioning and position-fixing systems, such as aircraft identity, four-dimensional position, and other relevant information, over a data link. There are two types of ADS in use: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C).

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is an operational feature on an aircraft or surface vehicle that transmits flight data to other aircraft, automobiles, and ground facilities. It has become the primary application of the ADS principle.

How Does an ADS-B Receiver Work?

ADS-B Out Transmissions

Aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out transponders transmit the flight data to ground stations and other aircraft within range. These broadcasts occur on specific frequencies, typically 1090 MHz for commercial aircraft or 978 MHz for general aviation in the U.S. (UAT).

ADS-B In Reception

ADS-B receivers, either on the ground or in other aircraft, capture these transmissions. They decode the data to reveal the aircraft’s unique identifier, GPS position, heading, and other vital information.

Moreover, if you’re traveling with American Airlines, you can use their flight tracker tool to know how far you are from your destination.

Data Processing

The received data is processed and displayed on various screens, such as cockpit displays or air traffic control systems. This information is crucial for purposes beyond navigation, including weather monitoring and tracking bird migrations.

Traffic Awareness

ADS-B receivers improve traffic awareness by displaying neighboring aircraft and alerting pilots to potential collisions. This shared situational awareness facilitates pilots’ ability to make informed decisions, predict other aircraft’s trajectories, and change their directions for safety.

For instance, Allegiant Airlines’ flight tracker uses ADS-B receivers to improve traffic awareness, helping pilots predict and avoid potential collisions.

Lack of Encryption in ADS-B Messages

ADS-B messages are transmitted openly without encryption, posing significant security risks. This lack of security allows attackers to easily track, jam, or modify messages. The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security identifies three types of attackers in ADS-B:

  1. Insiders
  2. Malicious passengers
  3. Remote attackers

Attack Intentions

  • Information Collection for Personal Interest: These passive attacks are usually carried out by unlicensed individuals using public websites or inexpensive SDR receivers to collect ADS-B information.
  • Economic Gain: Attackers generate false signals or ghost aircraft to disrupt flights, aiming to gain substantial economic benefits.
  • Terrorism: Terrorist organizations utilize defects in wireless air communication to threaten national security.
  • Cyber Warfare: Military attackers with extensive resources conduct high-tech attacks, posing significant threats to aviation safety.

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