by Dan Streufert
Many approach us at ADS-B Exchange with a common query: “How does unfiltered flight tracking serve the public?” To shed light on this, let’s delve into the various aspects that underscore the significance of what we do, with help from everyday people hosting ADS-B receivers.
ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast, is a globally recognized protocol where a majority of aircraft relay crucial data over the public airwaves on the 1090mhz frequency. These unencrypted broadcasts are easily received with low-cost electronics. Our role at ADS-B Exchange is to collect these signals, present them in a user-friendly manner, and archive them for future analysis.
Accident Analysis: Prompt Information Sharing
One of the primary uses of the data we collect is accident analysis. It’s about getting crucial flight information to the public immediately after an accident or incident takes place. For instance, an air medical flight that tragically crashed at night on February 24, 2023, resulting in five casualties. While the official cause remains under scrutiny, the readily available ADS-B data provides immediate insights. This accident, which involved a PC12, could have various underlying causes. Yet, with ADS-B data, we can quickly begin understanding the potential reasons.
In fact, the AOPA Air Safety foundation, with insights from a seasoned pilot and previous flight leader of the US Air Force Thunderbirds, utilized our data to explore potential causes of this incident. Their analysis can be seen in the following videos:
Enhanced Coverage: The Advantage of Distributed Receivers
It’s worth noting that our expansive network of low-cost receivers often captures signals overlooked by the more centralized FAA towers. A case in point is the incident in May of 2022, in Show Low, AZ, where a Cessna 172 experienced difficulties during its first takeoff and eventually crashed on the second attempt. Our local receiver picked up this crucial data, which the distant FAA towers missed due to the low-altitude and the area’s remoteness. Recognizing the value of this data, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) turned to ADS-B Exchange to aid their investigation of the incident.
A Peek into Interesting Activities
ADS-B Exchange data isn’t limited to commercial and governmental aircraft. It extends to monitoring unique aircraft applications with public interest such as the activities of the first privately-owned F16 fighter, or Virgin Galactic’s private space launches.
Sharing Important Information During Geopolitical Tensions
During the initial phases of the Ukraine conflict, ADS-B Exchange became an informational touch point for many Europeans seeking clarity on the aerial dynamics unfolding above them. While it’s true that military aircraft can and often deactivate their transponders for discretion and security, the data that remains accessible offers vital glimpses into the larger aerial situation.
The data aggregated by ADS-B Exchange, far from being a mere technological exercise, represents a commitment to transparency, safety, and public awareness in the rapidly evolving world of aviation.
The myriad uses of unfiltered ADS-B data underscore the profound impact of real-time aviation transparency on a global scale. It isn’t merely about flight tracking; it’s about enabling various sectors, from aviation enthusiasts to official investigative bodies, to access, analyze, and derive meaningful insights from this data. ADS-B Exchange has firmly rooted itself as a platform bridging the informational gaps in aviation. Our commitment lies not just in the collection and dissemination of flight data but in bolstering public safety, awareness, and knowledge in a realm that affects so many lives daily.