Safer and more efficient European air travel moves closer with implementation phase of Iris

The new air traffic management system reaches a milestone moment

The digital transformation of European airspace has taken another giant leap forward following the news that Iris – Inmarsat and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) air traffic modernisation programme – has entered its implementation phase.

With the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasting that air traffic will double by 2035, there is a fear that further congestion will lead to increased flight times and travel disruption, in addition to negative economic and environmental consequences. The Iris programme, supported by a range of technology partners, will alleviate the pressing issue of Europe’s congested skies with more efficient satellite datalink communications for air traffic management.

4D operations enable precise tracking

Iris will implement a satellite-based datalink solution that will relieve the pressure on ground-based radio frequencies. Powered by SB-S, Inmarsat’s secure global IP broadband platform for the cockpit, this will enable high bandwidth, cost-effective satellite-based datalink communications and ultimately deliver powerful benefits to airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) across Europe.

Iris allows aircraft to be pinpointed in four dimensions, known as 4D operations, – latitude, longitude, altitude and time – enabling precise flight tracking and more efficient air traffic management to reduce delays, save fuel and cut CO2 emissions.

Over the last five years a rigorous research phase has been undertaken, during which Iris was designed and flight trials were conducted to validate performance and economic viability. This ensured that Iris complied with the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research programme (SESAR), the European Commission’s next-generation initiative to modernise air traffic management systems across the continent.

The Iris Programme Implementation phase

Further significant milestones have been reached with the announcement that requirements for transitioning to future capabilities have also been established and commercial avionics are now being developed and certified by multiple OEMs to support the technology.

Looking ahead to 2021

Commercial flight trials will begin next year after an agreement was reached with a leading European airline. This will be followed by the roll out of a full commercial service in 2021, upon completion of initial operating capabilities, commercial trials and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

John Broughton, Vice President, Operational and Safety Services at Inmarsat Aviation, is delighted with the progress of the Iris programme to date.

“It’s been phenomenal,” he said. “With the system design and flight tests now complete, industry-wide interest and commitment to the programme has led to several important agreements with major European ANSPs, OEMs and a leading commercial European airline. These partnerships have brought us one step closer to commercial service for Iris, and enabling the SESAR objective of modernising ATM across Europe.”

The next steps will see a pan-European organisation selected as the Iris Service Provider (ISP). This company will provide the satellite-based datalink communications for Iris.

Iris future milestones 2019 - 2021

In related news, Inmarsat has entered into a non-exclusive agreement with European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) to identify potential markets and business opportunities for Iris’s commercial service. These two partners will collaborate to define the service, the optimum structure for operations and an organisational framework for certifying the ISP.

The CEO of ESSP, Thierry Racaud, said he was proud to be collaborating with Inmarsat and ESA in preparing Iris for its commercial launch: “ESSP’s successful experience as certified pan-European navigation service provider is an asset for the future Iris Service Provider implementation.”

This follows a November 2018 announcement that Inmarsat had signed agreements with a number of ANSPs to help transform Air Traffic Control standards via Iris. These partnerships included: DFS (Germany), ENAIRE (Spain), ENAV (Italy), EUROCONTROL MUAC (North-West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) and NATS (UK).

Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, concluded: “The Iris technology is ready for implementation. We and the industrial consortium led by Inmarsat have developed Iris into a vital, enabling tool for the aviation sector and our European Commission partners in SESAR. We are extremely pleased to have passed this very significant milestone on the road to safer, greener and more efficient air travel.”