In November 2014 a historic deal was struck between the European Space Agency and UK based satellite operator Inmarsat that would introduce the world’s safest aviation infrastructure. Worth €15 million, the project is to create a satellite based air traffic control system by 2018. The first phase has just been completed.
The current Air Traffic Management System costs the industry around €4 billion a year as a result of deficiencies. The impact of this is 19.4 million minutes of delays and each flight travelled an average of 49,000 kilometres further than a direct routed flight.
The European Air Traffic Managment system controlled 9.5 million flights in 2010. The European Commission estimates this figure to rise to 17 million flights by 2030 which, at current rates, will up the cost of deficiencies to at least €7.15 billion.
The completion and validation of the Iris Precursor’s architecture, system design and safety & security releases €7.6 million in funding from the ESA and its partners.
Phase 2 will involve the development of an enhanced satellite network to overlay existing VHF networks to carry Air Traffic Management communications over European skies.
Iris Precursor will be able to update flight plans in real time - Image courtesy of the ESA
Iris Precursor is part of the European Union’s ‘Single European Skies ATM Research Initiative’ or SESAR which is tasked with replacing the current system which will reach its limit by 2030 at the latest. A more efficient system would also cut CO2 emissions as flights would be able to make more efficient journeys. European aircraft operators produced 54.9 million tonnes of C02 in 2014.
By 2018, ESA’s Iris Precursor programme, in partnership with Inmarsat, is expected to provide airground communications for initial 4D flight path control, pinpointing an aircraft in relation to latitude, longitude, altitude and time, thereby enabling precise tracking of flights and more efficient traffic management.
Iris Precursor will also accommodate real time flight plan updates that continually update to optimise trajectory. Trajectory Management will allow air traffic control to route and sequence aircraft far in advance to avoid circling and maximise airspace capacity.
'Today’s announcement marks an important milestone for Inmarsat and ESA,' said Leo Mondale, president of Inmarsat Aviation. '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.'
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