Air traffic control via satellite a step closer
14 July 2015
A safer airspace over Europe by 2018 is promised as ESA’s Iris Precursor project gets a boost with a further €7.6 million of funding.
The public–private partnership between ESA and UK satellite operator Inmarsat is looking at deploying satellites to make aviation safer through the use of modern communications technologies.
With the design phase completed, Iris Precursor's next task is to develop an improved satellite network to overlay existing terrestrial VHF networks that will carry air traffic management communications across European skies. To do this, Inmarsat has formed an industrial team with 16 companies from eight ESA Member States.
Iris, which is focused on satcom services for air traffic management, is aligned with, and supports, the long-term initiative by the EU’s Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking to address the annual €4 billion cost resulting from the shortcomings of Europe’s air traffic management.
SESAR will radically change the way air transport is managed in the future to maximise airport and airspace capacity, reduce delays for passengers, lower costs for airlines and limit carbon dioxide emissions.
By 2018, in an essential milestone for Iris, the Precursor service will provide air–ground communications for initial 4D flight path control, pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time.
This will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic so that flight plans can be continually updated during flight to maintain an optimal trajectory to destination.
A key benefit of 4D is that it allows rapid re-routing, meaning fewer flight cancellations and delays, and safer air travel – possible partly because all aircraft will be continuously monitored and locations periodically reported to control centres.
While the initial focus will be on Europe, the capabilities will open opportunities for deployment in North America, Asia Pacific and other regions, where the growth of air traffic is straining ground-based VHF networks.
Leo Mondale, president at Inmarsat Aviation, said the announcement of the next phase is an important milestone for Inmarsat and ESA. "The European airspace is the most congested in the world, and this project will unlock the full potential of the aviation industry in the region and serve as a model for efficiently and effectively managed airspace for the rest of the world,” he adds.