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March 15, 2019

Iris programme to modernise European air traffic management enters implementation phase

Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, today announced that the research phase of its Iris air traffic management programme has successfully concluded and work on commercial implementation has now commenced.

In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the programme is being developed to deliver powerful benefits to airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) across Europe by enabling high bandwidth, cost effective satellite-based datalink communications. This allows aircraft to be pinpointed in four dimensions, known as four dimensional (4D) operations, which include latitude, longitude, altitude and time.

4D operations enable precise flight tracking and more efficient air traffic management to reduce delays and save fuel, which in turn improves the environmental impact of air travel.

During an extensive five-year research phase, the Iris system was designed and flight trials conducted to validate performance and economic viability, while also ensuring compliance with the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) masterplan and datalink requirements. Requirements for transitioning to future capabilities have also been established and commercial avionics are now being developed and certified by multiple original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to support the technology.

An agreement has been reached with a leading European airline to begin commercial flight trials in 2020. This will be followed by commercial service, which is scheduled to begin in 2021, following completion of initial operating capabilities, commercial trials and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

Iris is powered by Inmarsat’s award-winning SB-S digital aircraft operations platform, using its world’s leading L-band satellite constellation, which has underpinned global safety services for almost 40 years. Inmarsat is scheduled to launch two new, advanced L-band payloads to join its award-winning fleet in 2020 and 2021, further cementing the company’s long-term commitment to the highly reliable services it offers over this spectrum.

John Broughton, Vice President, Operational and Safety Services at Inmarsat Aviation, said: “Progress of the Iris programme to date has been outstanding. 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.”

As Inmarsat progresses toward selecting the Iris Service Provider (ISP), a pan-European organisation that will provide the satellite-based datalink communications for Iris, it has entered into a non-exclusive agreement with European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) to identify potential markets and business opportunities for Iris commercial service. Inmarsat and ESSP are collaborating to define the service, the optimum structure for operations and an organisational framework for certifying the ISP.

Thierry Racaud, CEO of ESSP, said: “ESSP is proud to be collaborating with Inmarsat and ESA, and to contribute to the preparatory works in view of the introduction of the Iris commercial service. ESSP’s successful experience as certified pan-European navigation service provider is an asset for the future Iris Service Provider implementation.”

The agreement with ESSP follows an announcement in November 2018 that Inmarsat has signed agreements with major ANSPs to help develop standards for Air Traffic Control through Iris, including 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, said: “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.”