ESA and Inmarsat launch Iris Global to share the benefits of Iris beyond Europe

Inmarsat signs a new contract with the European Space Agency to expand the Iris air traffic modernization program globally and drive the future of unmanned aviation airspace integration in Europe

Global airspace congestion is rapidly increasing and pressure is mounting on the aviation industry to seek more sustainable practices. In Europe alone, the skies are expected to see a 50% increase in flights over the next 20 years – while recent estimates predict that 40 times more commercial UAVs will fly beyond line-of-sight by 2030 than commercial aircraft. This is why Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a new contract for the globalization of their Iris air traffic modernization program.

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 ATM modernization, 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 the status of any airspace restrictions. In addition, research on future capabilities for integrating unmanned aviation into European airspace will be supported.

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

Entering commercial and operational service in Europe in 2023, Iris will be the first communications service to benefit from pan-European certification from EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency. It allows aircraft to send and receive live data with ground systems throughout the flight, enabling increased predictability of operations and the ability to adapt to changing conditions on the air traffic network, thereby making air traffic management (ATM) more efficient and safer.

Iris will be a key enabler for trajectory-based operations to be implemented through the sharing of four-dimensional (4D) trajectory data between the aircraft and the ground. The initial 4D trajectories will optimize the climb and descent trajectories, but also optimize the trajectory en route, which will create savings in fuel and CO2 emissions. Iris uses International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) standards, including those suitable for future ATM and ATN Open Systems Interconnect (ATN OSI) protocols, enabling groundbreaking new ATM functionality such as 4D trajectory management to be deployed.

Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive of Inmarsat, said: “Capacity shortages are a major problem worldwide – and relying solely on existing technologies will not solve the problem. Iris will have a huge impact in Europe when it enters service in 2023, which is expected to continue as air travel increases and pressure for more sustainable airline operations grows. It is a natural next step for us to expand its remit beyond European airspace and share our spoils with the rest of the world. To overcome capacity challenges and make aviation greener in the long term, as well as to successfully integrate drones into our airspace as soon as possible, we need the right technologies on board every aircraft – and that starts with Iris .

Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, said: “Iris is a major step towards creating a more sustainable and efficient aviation industry. It’s exciting to see the progress made so far, but this is just the beginning. Iris Global will extend the benefits of innovation and operational efficiency beyond Europe to other parts of the world. Achieving carbon neutrality for air traffic management by 2050 will be a challenge, but we hope to contribute through innovation in space to achieving this ambitious goal.

Iris is backed by a company called European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), which was founded by seven national air traffic control organizations from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The company is the first air navigation service provider to hold a pan-European certificate allowing the cross-border provision of air traffic management services.

Charlotte Neyret, Managing Director of ESSP, said: “The Iris program is a game-changer for the aviation industry, providing the most advanced new technology to complement datalink communications and meet the challenge of air transport. digital, greener and more sustainable. As a springboard for the future data link service provider organization under discussion, ESSP is proud to bring its expertise to this important program which will provide a pan-European certified service for the first time.

For the fully global Iris solution, Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, will work with industry partners and standards organizations to also implement next-generation Aeronautical Telecommunication Network using Internet Protocol Suite (ATN/IPS) satellite communications, which is currently being finalized as a global standard for air traffic control communications to and from the aircraft. Iris Global will build a seamless ATN/OSI to ATN/IPS gateway, allowing all aircraft, regardless of the standard they operate on, to fly seamlessly around the world.