The two-year air traffic management system study is being funded by Britain's Technology Strategy Board, an executive non-departmental public body established by the government in 2007.
Thales UK said the system for air traffic management would work by having a number of ground stations that receive the same TV signal. Each would receive the signal at a slightly different time -- because of the reflections and interactions with aircraft flying in their vicinity. The received signals would then be compared to the original broadcast and the difference used to triangulate the aircraft's position.
The system, called multi-static primary surveillance radar and the three companies will help to develop a prototype.
"The large number of TV transmitters already located across the U.K. could provide a more reliable infrastructure than the current system, which typically relies on one radar per airport," Thales said.
"The continued availability of transmissions is safeguarded because the digital TV network is part of the U.K.'s critical national infrastructure, although the study will also examine how service level agreements with broadcasters could further ensure reliability and performance."
Thales didn't disclose the amount of funding the study is to receive but said the project is "a is a good example of how government and industry can work together, share expertise and sustain innovation and high-technology research within the U.K."