Inmarsat and ESA partner for flight tracking

by Clayton Vallabhan | November 30th, 2014

Inmarsat has announced that Swiftbroadband Safety will play an integral part in the future of European air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure. The announcement follows the signing of a contract between Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Iris Precursor partnership at the House of Commons in London.

The Iris Precursor partnership will upgrade SwiftBroadband to meet the demanding standards set for ground-based VHF data links. This will enable Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) flight management concepts, where flight plans can be continually updated during flight to maintain an optimal trajectory to destination. These trajectory management concepts allow air traffic control to offer better routings, sequence aircraft far in advance and maximise airport and airspace capacity. This benefits air operators by reducing flight time and airborne holding. It also supports other concepts such as continuous descent operations. The combined effect is less fuel burn, reduced delays and lower CO2 emissions.

Using SwiftBroadband to enable Iris is an extension of Inmarsat’s more than 20 year experience as the leading provider of safety communications to 98% of airlines. This partnership is the next step in developing SwiftBroadband Safety, which has recently begun flight trials for oceanic operational approvals. It is being developed in coordination with a dedicated project in the frame of the SESAR programme, P15.02.05 (also named “Iris Precursor”) that results in pre-operational flight trials during 2016.

The Iris Precursor partnership results from a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council, with the UK as the main contributor; followed by Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal.  Under the ESA Iris Precursor partnership, SwiftBroadband will be upgraded to provide a satellite overlay to terrestrial VHF networks. 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.

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark said: “One in five telecommunication satellites are built in the UK and today’s €15 million contract between ESA and UK satellite operator Inmarsat is further proof that the UK is a global leader in the telecommunications field.  From mapping West Africa to combat Ebola to landing a satellite on a comet, British engineers are pushing through scientific boundaries on a daily basis.

“This partnership will see Britain’s technological expertise play a crucial role in revolutionising global air travel through modern communications – making aviation safer, more efficient and lowering costs and emissions.”

Inmarsat supports aviation safety services to nearly 10,000 aircraft, delivering Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) and Controller Pilot Data link Communications (CPDLC) FANS service on a worldwide basis.

Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and integrated Applications, said: “Iris Precursor is a project within the framework of ESA’s Iris Programme, born in 2008 to provide a satellite system as part of a wider initiative driven by the European Commission for the modernisation of the air traffic management. It represents a first milestone of a fruitful collaboration in the long-term modernisation of air traffic management: a challenge that we can only do it if we join forces, ready to tackle step by step”

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