European Iris program aims to modernize air traffic management by 2020

LONDON. European Space Agency (ESA) officials selected Inmarsat to develop satellite communication services that enable 4-D trajectory air traffic management in European airspace from 2020.

The Iris program supports the Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) plan for next-generation , which offers a strategic perspective of the critical developments that are required to deliver a high-performing aviation management system for Europe. Iris aims to provide secure and high bandwidth cockpit communications that are essential to accomplish SESAR’s objectives to optimise airspace, enhance safety and cybersecurity, and reduce flight times, delays and CO2 emissions.

Iris will enable the SESAR concept of initial ‘4-D’ trajectories, pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time. This will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic through Trajectory-based Operations (TBO). TBO allows pilots and controllers to calculate the shortest available routes, cruise at optimum altitudes, and use continuous climb and descent paths, saving fuel and lessening the environmental impact of air travel.

Pilot-controller communications will move from voice communications to (text messages), increasing both operational safety and efficiency. Iris will also protect aircraft communications from cyber threats with security gateways. These gateways would provide a VPN barrier between the ground and each aircraft, assuring mutual authentication and integrity of data exchange. They will securely connect flight management systems on board the aircraft to the corresponding systems used by air traffic controllers on the ground.

ESA and Inmarsat will work with prime partners Thales Alenia Space and CGI, in addition to a consortium of leading aviation and space companies, to finalize the technology before commercial rollout commences in Europe from 2020. The program will also demonstrate how satellite data link will evolve to become a primary means of communications for air traffic control.

Inmarsat photograph shows (left to right): Magali Vaissiere, Director of TIA (Telecommunications and Integrated Applications), ESA; Rupert Pearce, CEO, Inmarsat; Frederik van Essen, SVP, Strategy & Business Development, Inmarsat Aviation; Peter Hadinger, CTO, Inmarsat.

Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, says, “Iris is also fundamental to the future of European aviation and the economic growth of Europe. IATA forecasts that European passenger numbers to grow to 1.5 billion by 2036, but already Europe’s aviation industry is under intense pressure due to limited airspace capacity, which results in several billions of dollars of unnecessary cost to airspace users each year. The advanced capabilities of Iris will mark a step change, helping to address the limitations of today’s legacy protocols and paving the way for more efficient, cost effective air traffic management.”

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