Automated Flight Following
Automated Flight Following is a system that automatically tracks the location, altitude, course, and speed of an aircraft. This information is then provided to dispatchers, aviation manager, and other system users in real time.
Since 2006, the B.C. Wildfire Service has adopted an Automated Flight Following (AFF) standard for all aircraft (Rotary and Fixed) in the province.
The AFF standard is beneficial in numerous ways including safety, resource awareness, and reducing radio-traffic and check-in times.
Since 2008, it is a requirement that all aircraft contracted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations must have a tracking device installed that meets the AFF specifications. The BC Wildfire Service is not able to complete a hire agreement with carriers that do not follow this standard.
Register for AFF
Submit a request to BC Wildfire Service for an aircraft or vehicle to be added to AFF.
Carriers and vendors may wish to download the AFF specifications (PDF).
Note: The BC Wildfire Service will not recommend a specific vendor's tracking device. Carriers are asked to consult tracking-device vendors in the avionics industry to ensure their device of choice meets AFF specifications.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Automated Flight Following?
Automated Flight Following (AFF) is a system that automatically tracks the location, altitude, course, and speed of aircraft, providing this information in real time to dispatchers, aviation managers, and other system users.
How does AFF work?
In a nutshell, GPS onboard an aircraft collects position, altitude, bearing and speed. A "tracking device" transmits this data via a satellite connection to a Network Operation Centre (NOC). This data is made available to display on a mapping graphical user interface which organizations can use to view their resources in real time. See Diagram.
Which tracking unit should I buy?
Due to a rapid increase in satellite tracking device manufactures, the BC Forest Service cannot recommend any specific vendor's device. Carriers are advised to research the avionics industry for devices that meet the AFF specification.
Are satellite voice communications mandatory?
No. The BC Forest Service is not making satellite voice communications mandatory in aircraft for 2008. However, carriers with satellite voice communications integrated into their aircraft will be considered preferred upon hire. Some tracking device vendors do have units that support both voice and data transmissions. It is the carrier's decision at this point as to which features they wish to purchase from a vendor as long as the device meets the AFF specification.
Are these tracking units replacing radio communications?
No. At this point, the satellite tracking units will be used as a flight-following system for safety, resource awareness and data transmissions.
How can I view my aircraft tracking once a device is installed?
Most tracking device vendors have the option of supplying a web interface for carriers that have purchased one of their tracking units to view their resources on a map. Carriers are recommended to request more information from the specific vendors. Third-party companies also have the ability to provide this service as long as the device meets the AFF specification.
Besides the BC Forest Service, who else has adopted or is adopting the AFF standard?
The US Forest Service is making satellite tracking mandatory in all aircraft under hire for 2006.
The Alberta Forest Service is making satellite tracking preferred for 2006 and mandatory for 2007.
Talks with Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) are in progress to make the AFF standard a national initiative throughout Canada.
How secure is the data that is being transmitted over satellite from my aircraft?
GPS data transmitted over the satellite connection from the tracking device must be encrypted at a minimum of 128 bit. This is noted in the AFF specification document.
Who has access to view my aircraft tracking on the map?
Any mapping application purchased from a vendor must have filtering enabled that allows only the specific carrier toview their own resources or "fleet" tracking on the provided mapping application. For safety and resource awareness, the BC Forest Service mapping application will allow determined staff to view all aircraft data coming in from each carrier under hire.
Tracking devices can use different satellite carriers; who should I use?
Due to the mountainous geographic nature of BC, it is highly recommended that carriers chose a satellite-based apparatus to ensure they are compliant with the AFF standard.
Is it possible for a carrier to "filter" which agencies can view the position data for their specific aircraft?
The AFFXML standard revolves around enabling a "feed" or "switch" for a particular aircraft or resource. Each agency will access an AFFXML site (from the vendor or third-party host) using a specific user id and password. That AFFXML site will control which resource data is available to that agency.
Example: Company ABC Helicopters can specify from their tracking device vendor that only BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan can have access to the data from their specific aircraft "A-BCDE". This also means they can turn off the "feed" to those provinces as well whenever they choose.
Does the AFF standard restrict carriers or agencies to use a specific mapping display to view their aircraft?
The AFFXML standard is independant of display, database or operating system. Carriers or agencies should discuss with a mapping-display vendor if their application can receive and parse the data stream and store it in a local database.
How is the XML file named?
The AFFXML data is not provided as a file but as a stream of data from a provider's site. The receiving program has to parse the data stream and store it in a local database.
Why use an HTTPS site instead of an FTP site?
There are a number of reasons HTTPS has been chosen. First, it provides each agency the ability to query the provider's service for the information it wants.
Example: Whether you wish to query data for the past hour or for the last two weeks, it is within your control. You can get what you want however often you want; this would be very cumbersome to accomplish using FTP. The HTTPS/XML model allows for future expansion of the XML standard to support new information, while still supporting the original standard.
This means a request for aircraft positions using AFFXML Version 1.0 would still work, while at the same time we would be able to request a AFFXML Version 2.0 from the same server, which could potentially contain aircraft avionics data such as fuel, retardant drop, etc. This is very important as new and better tracking equipment is developed and integrated into our mobile resources. This then allows technology to move ahead while still maintaining backwards compatibility. HTTPS is the internet security standard used by banks and most other agencies to exchange and display data over the internet.