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Contact: Dominique Detain
European Space Agency

Flying over Africa with EGNOS

This plane will land using the EGNOS satellite navigation system
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Europeans take it for granted that aircraft criss-cross the continent in safety. But what about air travel in less developed parts of the world? How can this be made safer? One answer is the introduction of a European satellite navigation system called EGNOS.

EGNOS is a major improvement on the American GPS system. It corrects the signals from GPS satellites and sends them via communications satellites to users' receivers.

EGNOS reference stations installed in Africa
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

EGNOS provides a positioning accuracy of less than two metres against 15 to 20 metres for GPS signals. It also guarantees high quality signals something that GPS, a military system, does not offer.

Working with other organisations, ESA has already shown that EGNOS can be used in Africa for safe landings. Since 2002, a network of 10 EGNOS stations has been set up in different African countries. These provide corrections and improvements to the GPS signals all over Africa.

The next step is to use EGNOS to guide an aircraft on a 6,400 km flight from Senegal to Kenya. On 16 May, a specially equipped test plane will take off from Dakar. It will use the EGNOS satellite signals to travel to Chad, then steer a course towards Nairobi. When the plane arrives, the pilot will land using EGNOS.

This pioneering crossing of Africa is just the latest stage in a vast operation to bring safer aviation to Africa. The EGNOS system will be introduced gradually over the next year, and should be fully available for aircraft navigation by 2007.