pyModeS: Decoding Mode-S Surveillance Data for Open Air Transportation Research

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The availability of low-cost automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers has given researchers the ability to make use of large amounts of aircraft state data. This data is being used to support air transportation research in performance study, trajectory prediction, procedure analysis, and airspace design. However, aircraft states contained in ADS-B messages are limited. More performance parameters are downlinked as Mode-S Comm-B replies, upon the automatic and periodic interrogation of air traffic control secondary surveillance radar. These replies reveal aircraft airspeed, turn rate, target altitude, and so on. They can be intercepted using the same 1090-MHz receiver that receives the ADS-B messages. However, a third-party observer does not know the interrogations, which originated the Comm-B replies. Thus, it is difficult to decode these messages without knowing the type and source aircraft. Furthermore, the parity check also cannot be performed without knowing the interrogations. In this paper, we propose a new heuristic-probabilistic method to decode the Comm-B replies and to check the correctness of the messages. Based on a reference dataset provided by air traffic control of the Netherlands, the method yields a success rate of 97.68% with an error below 0.01%. The performance of the proposed method is further examined with data from eight different regions of the world. The implementation of the inference and decoding process, pyModeS, is shared as an open-source library.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019


  • aircraft surveillance
  • air traffic control
  • Mode-S
  • Comm-B
  • Enhanced Mode-S
  • ADS-B

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