• Iris Precursor programme aims to significantly optimise European airspace capacity, leading to overall reductions in flight times, fuel burn and CO2 emissions

United Kingdom | December 20, 2016– Inmarsat (ISAT.L), the world’s leading provider of global mobile satellite communications, has successfully completed the first flight trials for Iris Precursor, a ground-breaking project to enhance and modernise air traffic management over European airspace.

Iris Precursor focuses on the development and deployment of secure satellite-based data link communications to significantly optimise European airspace capacity, leading to overall reductions in flight times, fuel burn and CO2 emissions. Iris Precursor aims to complement existing terrestrial data link communications (VDL2), which are expected to reach capacity in the near future.

Inmarsat is conducting the Iris Precursor programme with a consortium of leading companies from across the air traffic management, air transport, aeronautics and satcom industries, under the European Space Agency (ESA) umbrella. The programme, which is supported by ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES), will deliver services via Inmarsat’s secure next-generation SwiftBroadband-Safety platform.

Four test flights were conducted from Amsterdam under an initial phase to validate the use of satellite-based data link for secure communications and surveillance applications, and compare the capabilities to existing terrestrial data link communications. They were operated on aircraft from the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) using a prototype of the Iris terminal developed by Honeywell and connected to Inmarsat’s next-generation SwiftBroadband-Safety service through Inmarsat’s aviation partner, SITA, the world’s leading air transport IT and communications specialist.

Each of the flights travelled in different routes, covering all directions to ensure connectivity was maintained as the aircraft crossed satellite beams. The end-to-end connection between the aircraft and SITA’s Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC) test ground system was tested extensively and allowed air traffic control messages to be exchanged using Aeronautical Telecommunications Network and Security gateways.

While the Iris Precursor programme will initially focus on continental Europe, it will also benefit air traffic management in other regions around the world in the longer term.

Captain Mary McMillan, Inmarsat’s Vice President of Aviation Safety and Operational Services, said: “Efficiency improvements are fundamental to aviation modernisation programs in Europe. As air traffic volume continues to increase, the digitisation of the cockpit is one of the ways to alleviate current congestion on traditional radio frequencies and optimise European airspace, one of the busiest in the world. Using the power and security of satellite connectivity through Iris clearly changes the game in comparison to the ground technology in use today.

“The successful completion of these flight trials brings Iris Precursor an important step closer to initial operational capability, which is currently targeted for 2019. It demonstrates that the use of satellite technology for dense continental airspace is not only a long-term solution, but also a reliable system in the short-term to solve air traffic management issues today.”

Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “ESA’s Iris programme is forging ahead as part of Europe’s long-term goal to modernise air traffic control. A stepped approach and good collaboration between public and private partners is bringing excellent results.”

The flight trials complement a separate test flight that Airbus conducted with Inmarsat and other partners in March this year, as part of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme, which successfully performed initial 4-dimensional/4D flight path control and CPDLC exchanges between aircraft and air traffic control.

Inmarsat is now working toward a second phase of flight trials for Iris at the end of next year. At this point, Iris technology will be considered fully validated. The next phases of the programme include pre-operational validation by flying Iris technology on commercial flights in a real air traffic management environment. The Iris Initial Operational Capability will go live as early as 2019, complementing terrestrial systems and bringing enhanced security, safety and efficiency.

  • Joint initiative will bring data link communications to the 21st century, resulting in optimised airspace and airport capacity, plus reduction in flight times, aircraft fuel burn and CO2 emissions
  • Consortium of over 30 leading aviation and space companies have joined the project, including Airbus, Boeing, NATS, Thales Alenia Space, and the Iris programme’s first airline partner, Alitalia

United Kingdom | March 8, 2016– Inmarsat, the world’s leading provider of global mobile satellite communications, has been awarded a contract by the European Space Agency (ESA) to enhance Air Traffic Management (ATM) in Europe with a new generation of satellite-based data link communications.

Under the Iris Service Evolution programme, Inmarsat will head-up a consortium of over 30 leading companies from across the aviation industry to develop a technical, commercial and operational roadmap that meets Europe’s long-term requirements for enhanced air traffic communications.

The programme will focus on using advanced satellite technology to improve aeronautical data link services, enabling flight plans to be updated continuously, even while aircraft are on route to their destination. This will lead to the significant optimisation of European airspace and airport capacity, in addition to overall reductions in flight times, fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

Iris Service Evolution supports the Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) masterplan for the next-generation of air traffic management, which offers a high-level view of the critical developments that are required to deliver a high-performing aviation system for Europe.

Leo Mondale, President of Inmarsat Aviation, said: “Air traffic management is under great pressure and there is no doubt that the digitalisation of cockpit communication is a vital building block of the future, opening the door for airlines to truly benefit from enhanced data utilisation.

“Iris will mark a new era of communication in the aviation industry and places Europe at the forefront of ATM innovation. Inmarsat pioneered satellite data link services in oceanic areas 25 years ago and we look forward to now bringing this expertise and knowledge to continental airspace. Together with ESA and members of the Iris consortium, we will demonstrate the important contribution that Iris will make to air traffic management in Europe.”

Iris Service Evolution builds on the Iris Precursor contract awarded to Inmarsat by ESA in November 2014, under which an initial set of services was developed to complement existing, but congested terrestrial data link services. The services, which address the aviation industry’s short-to-medium term ATM needs, are supported by Inmarsat’s next-generation SwiftBroadband Safety (SB-S) satcom system, an evolution of its existing high-capacity L-band SwiftBroadband system.

Iris Precursor achieved a milestone on 23rd February 2016, when the first test flight was operated between Toulouse and the Baleares Islands, passing above Madrid. The two-hour-and-40-minute flight, operated using an Airbus A330 aircraft, successfully performed initial 4D (i4D) flight path control and Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC) exchanges with Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC). It also tested the handover between Inmarsat satellite spot beams.

Iris Precursor is expected to support CPDLC and i4D flight path control by 2018, with the exchange of information coming directly from avionic systems. In the longer term, Iris will evolve to support Full 4D and operate in a highly secure multi-link environment with future terrestrial data links, enabling more efficient traffic management by synchronising trajectories between air and ground.

Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at the European Space Agency (ESA), said: “Iris brings safer air traffic management to airlines and their passengers. It is an outstanding example of how cooperation between commercial partners and institutions can create effective technical solutions that improve our everyday lives and make European companies more competitive in the world markets.”

The Iris Service Evolution consortium gathers key players from air traffic management, air transport, aeronautics and the satcom industry, including Airbus, Boeing, NATS and Thales Alenia Space, together with the Iris programme’s first airline partner, Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy.

Giancarlo Schisano, Chief Operations Officer at Alitalia, said: “We are very proud of currently being the only airline which is partner of the Iris consortium. We will make our know-how available for this key project, which will revolutionise the aviation industry. We believe that satellite communications represent the natural development of the industry and will lead to concrete benefits to airlines and their travellers due to reduced flight times, more savings on fuel consumption and an even more advanced flight safety.”

The ESA-Inmarsat collaboration was created following a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council. While the programme will initially focus on Europe, the services will also benefit ATM operations in North America, Asia Pacific and other regions around the world where the growth of air traffic is placing a strain on ground-based networks.

London, United Kingdom | November 26,2014– Inmarsat, (LSE:ISAT.L), the leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services, has today announced that SwiftBroadband Safety will play an integral part in the future European air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure. The announcement follows the signing of a contract between Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Iris Precursor partnership at the House of Commons in London.

The Iris Precursor partnership will upgrade SwiftBroadband to meet the demanding standards set for ground-based VHF data links. This will enable Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) flight management concepts, where flight plans can be continually updated during flight to maintain an optimal trajectory to destination. These trajectory management concepts allow air traffic control to offer better routings, sequence aircraft far in advance and maximise airport and airspace capacity. This benefits air operators by reducing flight time and airborne holding. It also supports other concepts such as continuous descent operations. The combined effect is less fuel burn, reduced delays and lower CO2 emissions.

Using SwiftBroadband to enable Iris is an extension of Inmarsat’s more than 20 year experience as the leading provider of safety communications to 98% of airlines. This partnership is the next step in developing SwiftBroadband Safety, which has recently begun flight trials for oceanic operational approvals. It is being developed in coordination with a dedicated project in the frame of the SESAR programme, P15.02.05 (also named “Iris Precursor”) that results in pre-operational flight trials during 2016.

The Iris Precursor partnership results from a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council, with the UK as the main contributor; followed by Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal. Under the ESA Iris Precursor partnership, SwiftBroadband will be upgraded to provide a satellite overlay to terrestrial VHF networks. While the initial focus will be on Europe, the capabilities developed will open opportunities for deployment in North America, Asia Pacific and other regions, where the growth of air traffic is placing strain on ground-based VHF networks.

Inmarsat was the logical partner for this partnership given its long history of being at the forefront of safety communications. The partnership consists of an Industrial team with 16 companies from eight ESA Member States. These companies have long-standing working relationships and a proven heritage of successfully delivered, high quality, aeronautical safety solutions.

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark said: “One in five telecommunication satellites are built in the UK and today’s €15 million contract between ESA and UK satellite operator Inmarsat is further proof that the UK is a global leader in the telecommunications field. From mapping West Africa to combat Ebola to landing a satellite on a comet, British engineers are pushing through scientific boundaries on a daily basis.

“This partnership will see Britain’s technological expertise play a crucial role in revolutionising global air travel through modern communications – making aviation safer, more efficient and lowering costs and emissions.”

Inmarsat supports aviation safety services to nearly 10,000 aircraft, delivering Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) and Controller Pilot Data link Communications (CPDLC) FANS service on a worldwide basis.

“Inmarsat was the first operator to meet ICAO safety communications requirements and our innovation has not stood still”, said Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat. “Today’s announcement cements our role in providing aviation safety services. We have been committed since the launch of Future Air Navigation Systems in the 1990s to support safety communications for the world’s airlines. Our aim, and the purpose of this partnership, is to continue to provide airlines across the globe with improved safety services, aircraft routing, and environmental and cost efficiency benefits.”

Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and integrated Applications, said: “Iris Precursor is a project within the framework of ESA’s Iris Programme, born in 2008 to provide a satellite system as part of a wider initiative driven by the European Commission for the modernisation of the air traffic management. It represents a first milestone of a fruitful collaboration in the long-term modernisation of air traffic management: a challenge that we can only do it if we join forces, ready to tackle step by step.”