World’s most advanced aviation safety infrastructure moves step closer

14 July 2015: Europe’s ambitious programme to create the world’s most advanced and secure air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure moved a step closer today.

Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) have announced the successful completion of Phase 1 of ESA’s Iris Precursor; the ‘Final Design Review’ to validate the architecture & system design, and the safety & security of ESA’s Iris programme.

The completion of Phase 1 unlocks a further €7.6m funding from ESA and its partners for Phase 2, which will lead development of an enhanced satellite network to overlay existing terrestrial VHF networks to carry ATM communications over European skies.

Radically change

ESA’s Iris programme is part of the European Union’s Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking, which aims to address the annual €4 billion cost resulting from the shortcomings of the European ATM system.

Without SESAR and its plan to radically change the way air transport is managed in the future, flying in Europe will reach its growth limits, leading to more delays for passengers, increased costs for airlines and higher CO₂emissions.

According to the European Commission, in 2010, the European ATM system controlled 9.5 million flights and on busy days, 33,000 flights. The forecast sees this increasing to nearly 17 million flights per year by 2030 and 50,000 flights on busy days.

Air-ground communications

In 2010 there were 19.4 million minutes delay for en-route flights, and on average, each flight travelled 49km further than the equivalent direct routed flight.

It is intended that, by 2018, ESA’s Iris Precursor programme, in partnership with Inmarsat, will provide air–ground communications for initial ‘4D’ flight path control, pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time.

This will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic. It will also facilitate SESAR’s broader flight management concepts, where flight plans can be continually updated during flight to maintain an optimal trajectory to destination.

Open opportunities

These trajectory management concepts will allow air traffic control to offer better routings, sequence aircraft far in advance and maximise airport and airspace capacity.

The ESA/Inmarsat public-private partnership results from a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council, with the UK as the main contributor.

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.

Leo Mondale, President of Inmarsat Aviation said: “With our long history at the forefront of safety communications, Inmarsat is the ideal partner for ESA in the development of world-leading, satellite-based, aviation safety services for Europe.

“We provide vital mobile satellite connectivity to some 10,000 aircraft, delivering Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) and Controller Pilot Data link Communications (CPDLC) Future Air Navigation System (FANS) services on a global basis.