Airbus‘ A320 Family obtained Category IIIb approval for the first time on a commercial aircraft, for a new precision approach and landing system called the Microwave Landing System (MLS) that increases airport capacity.
The approval was granted by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). First customer, British Airways, will implement MLS at London’s Heathrow airport on A320s and A321s.
MLS uses micro-wave signals that are less susceptible to interference, for example from other aircraft moving on the airport surface or buildings, than the current Instrument Landing System (ILS). Airports equipped with MLS will be able to increase their traffic flow during bad weather conditions, no longer having to re-route aircraft when visibility is low. Cat III b approval enables airports to allow precision approach and landings in very low visibility conditions, with the decision height lower than 15 metres/50 feet.
The new innovative system is the result of a significant joint development by Airbus with major industry partners including, Thales, British Airways and the UK and French national Airport and Air Transport authorities. Both the on-board MLS receiver, hosted in a Multimode receiver (MMR) as well as the airport MLS ground station are manufactured by Thales.
MLS operations are very similar to those using ILS, with straight approaches in the runway axis along a three degree slope. The aircraft is equipped with special capture and tracking antennae and an avionics software suite, while on the ground, each runway has an MLS ground station. Designed with pilots and airlines in-mind, MLS is similar in terms of Human-Machine Interface to ILS, so costs related to pilot training, maintenance and operations are kept to a minimum.