The prospect of managing growing European air traffic volumes while improving safety and curtailing higher carbon emissions moved closer with a milestone for the future air traffic management infrastructure (ATM) being passed.
The goal of creating the world’s most secure ATM infrastructure and saving 4bn euro reached a vital review with satellite operator Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) completing a key phase of the ‘Iris’ programme.
According to the European Commission, in 2010, the European ATM system controlled 9.5 million flights and on busy days, 33,000 flights. The forecast sees this increasing to nearly 17 million flights per year by 2030 and 50,000 flights on busy days.
In 2010 there were 19.4 million minutes delay for en-route flights. Additionally, on average, each flight travelled 49km further than the equivalent direct routed flight.
The completion of Phase 1 of ESA’s Iris Precursor; is the ‘Final Design Review’ to validate the architecture & system design and the safety & security of the Iris programme.
The completion of unlocks a further €7.6m funding from ESA and its partners for Phase 2, which will lead development of an enhanced satellite network to overlay existing terrestrial VHF networks to carry ATM communications over European skies.
ESA’s Iris programme is part of the European Union’s Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) Joint Undertaking, which aims to address the annual €4 billion cost resulting from the shortcomings of the European ATM system.
Without SESAR and its plan to radically change the way air transport is managed in the future, flying in Europe will reach its growth limits, leading to more delays for passengers, increased costs for airlines and higher CO2 emissions.
It is intended that, by 2018, ESA’s Iris Precursor programme, in partnership with Inmarsat, 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.
It will also facilitate SESAR’s broader flight management concepts, where flight plans can be continually updated during flight to maintain an optimal trajectory to destination. These trajectory management concepts will allow air traffic control to offer better routings, sequence aircraft far in advance and maximise airport and airspace capacity.
The ESA/Inmarsat public-private partnership results from a major funding commitment approved at ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council, with the UK as the main contributor. 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.
Leo Mondale, President of Inmarsat Aviation said: "Today’s announcement marks 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."
Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, said: "This strengthens ESA’s alignment and relationship with SESAR and demonstrates Iris is a key enabler and credible viable solution for the satcom element of SESAR’s air to ground network."