Satellite links to optimise European airspace


The European Space Agency and London’s Inmarsat company are moving to the next phase of their project to improve the efficiency of European airspace. The pair’s Iris programme would see air traffic controllers route planes via robust and secure satellite data links. At the moment, this management involves VHF radio voice messages – a system that will soon likely reach capacity.

Additional technologies are therefore needed to cope with the expected growth in air traffic over the coming decades. Passenger demand is currently increasing by more than 5% a year globally with the European market among the busiest.

Iris, which will now see a large-scale demonstration over the next 36 months, should help speed up the transmission of messages between controllers and cockpits; and ultimately aims to make full 4D trajectory management possible.

“Flight paths are defined by latitude, longitude, altitude and time – and Iris, because of its performance, allows us to determine those waypoints to plus or minus 2-3 seconds,” explained Captain Mary McMillan, vice president of aviation safety and operational services at Inmarsat Aviation.

“With resilient and ubiquitous satellite downlink frequencies, controllers and aircraft will have the confidence to know that planes will be where they say they’re going to be at the prescribed time – and that will enable us to put more aircraft into the available airspace and do it safely,” she told BBC News.



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