Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a new contract focusing on the globalisation of their Iris air traffic modernisation programme.

This new phase, Iris Global, will focus on the technologies and certification required to share the fuel, CO2, and congestion-saving benefits of Iris with regions far beyond Europe.

To further accelerate air traffic management modernisation, it will also adopt System Wide Information Management (SWIM) applications to facilitate greater sharing of information such as airport operational status, weather information, flight data, and status of any airspace restrictions.

Integration of uncrewed aviation

In addition, research on future capabilities for the integration of uncrewed aviation into European airspace will be supported.

Iris, developed in a public-private partnership launched by ESA, is a service operating on Inmarsat’s SB-S platform. It was created to deliver benefits to airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) by enabling high bandwidth and cost-effective satellite-based datalink communications between air traffic controllers and pilots.

Entering commercial and operational service in Europe in 2023, Iris will be the first communication service benefiting from a Pan-European certification from EASA, the European aviation safety agency. It allows aircraft to send and receive live data with ground systems during the entire flight, enabling increased predictability of operations and the ability to adapt to evolving conditions on the air traffic network, thus making ATM more effective and safer.

‘Enormous impact’

Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive of Inmarsat, said: “Capacity crunches are a major issue worldwide – and relying on existing technologies alone won’t solve the problem. Iris will have an enormous impact in Europe as it enters service in 2023, which is set to continue at pace as air travel increases and the push for more sustainable aviation operations grows.

“It’s a natural next step for us to expand its remit beyond European airspace and share our spoils with the rest of the world. To beat capacity issues and make aviation greener long-term, as well as successfully integrate UAVs into our airspace as soon as possible, we need the right technologies on board every aircraft – and this starts with Iris.”

‘Sustainable and efficient’

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director General, said: “Iris is a major step towards creating a more sustainable and efficient aviation industry. It is exciting to see the progress made so far – but this is only just the beginning.

“Iris Global will extend the benefits of innovation and operational efficiency beyond Europe to other parts of the world. Reaching carbon-neutrality for air traffic management by 2050 will be challenging, but we hope to contribute through innovation in space to achieve this ambitious goal.”

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