Improving air traffic management is widely seen as the ripest near-term initiative that aviation can take to reduce its carbon footprint. Among the industry stakeholders taking the lead on ATM modernization in Europe are satellite operator Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA), which have been working on the commercial implementation of their so-called Iris programme. Now, Iris stands ready to support the staged introduction of 4D trajectory management.
Iris is effectively an app that sits on Inmarsat’s latest-generation IP-based SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) service which transmits via secure L-band satellite payloads. In the near-term, the main usage for Iris will be to support controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) in Europe, complementing today’s congested terrestrial VHF radio links.
“The rollout will complement VDL2,” Inmarsat director of datalink services Sylvie Sureda-Perez confirms to Runway Girl Network. “Aircraft in operation will be able to continue to use VDL2 when new aircraft equipped with Iris are ready for a full digital cockpit.”
But in time, Iris will also serve as an enabler for 4D trajectory management, which has been identified as one of the key pillars of the modernization of Europe’s air traffic management system under the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme.
“Air travel will become even more predictable in the future thanks to the work undertaken within the SESAR programme to develop and validate initial 4D (i4D) trajectory management — connecting aircraft and ground systems to optimize the aircraft trajectory in three dimensions [latitude, longitude and altitude] plus time,” explains SESAR.
Inmarsat offers this analogy:
Sureda-Perez notes that the timeline for implementing 4D is independent from Iris. “i4D will be mandated in Europe by December 31, 2027, meaning that apart from Maastricht [Upper Area] Control Centre” — the international non-profit air navigation service provider operated by EUROCONTROL on behalf of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and which participated in Iris trials — “there are currently no ANSPs today that provide an operational i4D service,” she says.
However, adds the Inmarsat executive:
Iris is compliant with i4D requirements already and has been developed against associated performance requirements.
Indeed, the trials involving Maastricht in the Netherlands validated procedures that make use of i4D capabilities to enhance queue management and minimise delays.
While the main usage for Iris satcom before the end of 2027 is CPDLC to relieve pressure on congested VHF radio links, its ability to support 4D operations is exciting, not simply became of its route optimisation and traffic avoidance capabilities — a positive for both airlines and the passenger experience — but also in the context of improving aviation’s eco-credentials by saving fuel and cutting emissions.
“One of Iris’ greatest benefit is its positive impact on the environment. SESAR Joint Undertaking estimates that 5-10% of CO2 emissions generated by flights are avoidable due to outdated aviation infrastructure, which generates unnecessarily long trajectories and congestion in the air. Iris technology reduces fuel burn and emissions, lessening aviation’s impact on the environment,” says Inmarsat in a statement.
“With Europe’s skies growing more congested all the time, it’s a vital component in advancing the European Green Deal, Europe’s effort to make its airspace the most environmentally friendly in the world. Making Europe climate-neutral and protecting our environment will benefit passengers, the planet and the economy.”
Budget operator easyJet recently became the first airline partner to Iris, having agreed to evaluate its capabilities on up to 11 Airbus A320neos which are set to begin flying from November of this year.
Iris, meanwhile, is also backed by a company called the European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), which was founded by seven national air traffic control organisations from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The company is the first air navigation service provider to own a pan-European certificate to allow cross-border delivery of air traffic management services.
“The Iris programme is a game-changer for the aviation industry, providing the most advanced new technology to complement datalink communications and meet the challenge of digital, greener and more sustainable air travel,” says ESSP CEO Charlotte Neyret.
“As a stepping stone for the future datalink service provider organisation under discussion, ESSP is proud to lend its expertise on this important programme that will deliver a pan-European certified service for the first time.”
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