The research phase of Inmarsat’s Iris air traffic management programme has successfully concluded and work on commercial implementation has now commenced, says the company.

In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the programme is being developed to deliver 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 SB-S digital aircraft operations platform, using its L-band satellite constellation. Inmarsat is scheduled to launch two new, advanced L-band payloads to join its fleet in 2020 and 2021.

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.