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Inmarsat and ESA sign Iris Precursor partnership


Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband Safety service is to play an integral part in the future European air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure.

Inmarsat has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Iris Precursor partnership which 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.

Dedicated project

The benefits of this for air operators include a reduction in flight time and airborne holding, and it also supports other concepts such as continuous descent operations resulting in less fuel burn, reduced delays and lower CO2 emissions. 

The Iris Precursor 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 will lead to pre-operational flight trials during 2016.

The partnership results from a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council, with the UK as the main contributor, under which 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. 

Global leader

“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,” said the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark. 

“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 was the logical partner given its long history of being at the forefront of safety communications -  it 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. 

Safety services

“Inmarsat was the first operator to meet ICAO safety communications requirements and our innovation has not stood still”, said Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, who attended the House of Commons in London today to sign the contract.

“Today’s announcement cements our role in providing aviation safety services. We have been committed since the launch of Future Air Navigation Systems in the 1990s to support safety communications for the world’s airlines. Our aim, and the purpose of this partnership, is to continue to provide airlines across the globe with improved safety services, aircraft routing, and environmental and cost efficiency benefits.” 

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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