An Insight into ADS-B Flight Tracker System in Aviation

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has made it mandatory for any kind of US aircraft to get the ADS-B Out upgrade. By January 1, 2020, all airplanes flying in the US airspace need to have active system of ADS-B Out installed. ADS-B flight tracker – an innovative flight navigation system – communicates automatically with ATC ground installations and satellites during flight. It will relay pre-set data continuously to the ATC responsible, regarding its environmental situation, flight metrics, and position. This new age avionics system does not call for the pilot’s active participation, but still facilitates data collection and vital communication.

ADS-B stands for “Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast”. 

  • Automatic, because the system transmits information periodically with no operator or pilot involvement necessary 
  • Dependent, as the velocity and position vectors are derived from GPS (Global Positioning System) or any other navigation systems (i.e., Flight Management System) 
  • Surveillance, as the system offers a method to determine the identification and 3-dimensional position of vehicles, airplanes, or other assets 
  • Broadcast, because the system transmits the available information to anyone with proper receiving equipment 

With Automatic Dependent Surveillance  Broadcast, radar technology is replaced with satellites, leading to remarkable advantages. Radar depends on antennas and radio signals for determining the location of an aircraft. ADS-B flight tracker, contrastingly, uses satellite signals for tracking airplane movements. 

Overview of ADS-B Out and In Systems  

ADS-B Out 

The ADS-B Out system broadcasts information about the ground speed, altitude, GPS location, and other information to other aircraft and ground stations, once per second. Airplanes with ADS-B In and air traffic controllers can receive this information immediately. This allows aircraft tracking more precisely than with radar technology that sweeps every 5 – 12 seconds for position information.  

Radio waves are restricted to the line of site, which means radar signals are unable to penetrate mountains or other solid objects, or travel long distances. With ADS-B, the ground stations are not only smaller but also more adaptable compared to radar towers. They can be placed at sites not possible in case of radar. The ground stations of this latest avionics system are placed throughout the country, including difficult to reach regions. With ADS-B, better visibility can be attained irrespective of the type of terrain or other hindrances.  


ADS-B In aviation system provides traffic and weather information to operators of aircraft equipped properly. Aircraft equipped with ADS-B In can access graphical weather displays in cockpit and text-based advisories, which include valuable weather activity and Notices to Airmen.  

Advantages of Installing both ADS-B In and Out 

While the ADS-B Out aircraft upgrade is mandatory for every US aircraft, a broader range of additional services is provided by ADS-B In. These services include receiving TIS-B and FIS-B data, and direct links with airplanes that are nearby, equipped with active In functions. Moreover, the equipment of ADS-B In comprise all mandatory features of ADS-B Out. Installing a combined unit of ADS-B In/Out provides a highly convenient interface for flight management. 

What happens if an aircraft is equipped with ADS-B In only and not ADS-B Out? 

If an aircraft has ADS-B In only, the traffic information it receives is limited. Although an equipment with great capabilities, ADS-B In flight tracker has certain limitations that pilots need to be aware of. An aircraft can realize all the abilities of ADS-B In only when it is equipped with the ADS-B Out transmitting system on one of the two frequencies that are approved – 978Mhz or 1090Mhz.  

ADS-B In displays targets from three distinct sources – transponder-only aircraft through TIS-B (Traffic Information System – Broadcast), same frequency ADS-B (referred to as link), and different link ADS-B via ADS-R (ADS-B Re-broadcast). To provide your aircraft having ADS-B In with information on the nearby traffic through TIS-B or ADS-R, the FAA ground system needs to have knowledge about your airplane and the airplanes around you. Your airplane needs to have a well-functioning ADS-B Out equipment. For TIS-B, an airplane must be within the airspace in which surveillance radar operates and detects transponder-only aircraft.  

Following is the impact on various configurations: 

ADS-B In Only Dual or Single Link 

If your aircraft has ADS-B In only and no ADS-B Out, and receives on a single link (for example, 978Mhz), you can see only the traffic near your aircraft broadcasting ADS-B Out at 978Mhz. In case your aircraft has only ADS-B In system receiving both the links (dual link), you can see ADS-B Out airplanes on any link directly. Nevertheless, unless your aircraft is near a properly configured aircraft with ADS-B Out, your plane will not receive TIS-B or ADS-R targets.  

ADS-B In Single Link & ADS-B Out 

If your airplane has ADS-B Out (either link) and receives ADS-B In on a single link, traffic will be received on the receiving link from the aircraft directly. When you are visible to FAA ground system, you would receive information on traffic on the other link also via ADS-R as well as nearby transponder-only aircraft through TIS-B.  

ADS-B In Dual Link & ADS-B Out 

If your airplane has ADS-B Out (either link) as well as receives ADS-B In on both links, ADS-B Out traffic would be received by you directly on both links. When you are visible to FAA ground system, traffic information would also be received via nearby transponder-only aircraft through TIS-B.  

Airplanes without ADS-B Out cannot benefit fully from the features provided by ADS-B system. 

Summing Up 

ADS-B Out aviation equipment enhances safety for all aircraft. With this intelligent technology, a standard would also be established for flight navigation equipment, which all US aircraft must use in the FAA airspace. Alongside, the technology would improve protocols of Pilot to ATC communication during international flights. If you are an aircraft owner in the US, get the ADS-B Out equipment installed in your airplane at the earliest, following the ADS-B 2020 mandate for all US aircraft. 

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