Europe’s Leading Airline Takes off with Iris Using Satellite Technology

By neub9
8 Min Read

easyJet has become the first airline partner of the cutting-edge Iris programme, a groundbreaking initiative led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and global communications company Viasat. This program utilizes the latest generation of satellite technology to help modernize air traffic management (ATM).

The EASA-certified Iris service provider ESSP has enlisted the support of 15 leading Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) for the first commercial flights taking place across Europe this year – with up to 11 easyJet Airbus A320neo aircraft participating. This initiative marks a European first in putting the Single European Skies initiative into action.

Through the use of Iris, easyJet will be able to operate its aircraft as efficiently as possible to achieve further fuel burn improvements and emissions reductions. Furthermore, the program will play a vital role in helping deliver airspace modernization across the industry.

Airspace modernization and the resulting improvements in efficiencies are crucial for the airline industry’s journey to achieving net-zero emissions. In 2022, easyJet announced its interim science-based carbon reduction target – a 35% carbon emissions intensity improvement by FY2035, based on a FY2020 baseline. This commitment is part of the airline’s goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

More efficient use of airspace is essential for aviation to reduce emissions, as it represents the most achievable source of carbon reductions at present. This is because more direct flight paths result in shorter flying times, leading to less fuel burn and fewer emissions. Achieving this will be crucial in reaching the Single European Sky’s ATM Research (SESAR) ambition to deliver 10% carbon emissions savings from European aviation.

Iris represents an important technological advancement, delivering faster and more reliable satellite communications between the aircraft and the ground. This will assist air traffic controllers and pilots in achieving further operational efficiencies, by calculating the shortest available routes, cruising at optimum altitudes, and utilizing continuous climb and descent paths.

ESA has led and funded Iris to support the European Policy on Single European Skies through a solution that offers full European coverage and is based on state-of-the-art, highly secure satellite communication mobile technologies. This has been carried out by ESA in full coordination with European aviation stakeholders, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to ensure Iris is fully compliant with European and worldwide aviation needs and requirements. In pursuit of this goal, ESA has set up a European industrial consortium of more than twenty companies, with Viasat (which recently acquired Inmarsat) as the prime contractor.

Powered by Viasat’s award-winning SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) connectivity platform, Iris is laying the groundwork for multilink data link communications – a crucial element in implementing new ATM functionalities.

Offered as a fully developed and certified capability by Airbus on the A320 and A330 series aircraft, Iris shares trajectory and intent-based operational information, allowing airlines to avoid holding patterns, calculate the shortest available routes and optimum altitudes, and benefit from continuous climb and descent pathways.

Hugh McConnellogue, Director of Operations & Navigation at easyJet stated, “More efficient use of airspace is a critical way we can tackle the industry’s emissions right now. Adopting Iris technology on these aircraft will enable easyJet to fly more directly and efficiently, resulting in reduced carbon emissions as well as enhancing our on-time performance – which in turn improves our customers’ experiences.

“We’re thrilled to be pioneering in this area as we work towards our goal of achieving our net-zero ambitions by 2050, as outlined in our roadmap.”

Charlotte Neyret, Chief Executive Officer, ESSP, said, “These first commercial flights mark the realization of a decade of both vision and investment in this new datalink communication solution, aiming to achieve safer and greener aviation. ESSP is delighted to oversee this moment of synchronization involving all stakeholders, from industry to airlines, with the proactive contribution of numerous Air Navigation Service Providers. Thanks to all partners, ESSP is proud to provide Iris Satcom datalink service to Europe, as well as to initiate the Iris flights with a key airline such as easyJet. Iris technology enables the development of new environmentally friendly routes, which will improve ATC management, reduce fuel costs, and lead to the deployment of more efficient air operations.”

Javier Benedicto, acting Director of Connectivity and Secure Communications, ESA, said, “These first Iris commercial flights firmly establish Europe at the forefront of the digitalization and modernization of Air Traffic Management. Iris provides tangible benefits to the commercial aviation community and society at large, including reduced carbon dioxide emissions and fewer delays for passengers through more efficient flight paths.

“As a follow-on to Iris, Iris Global, launched in 2022, aims to extend the benefits of Iris beyond Europe. This will be achieved through geographical expansion, including Asia, the USA, the Middle East, and Australia, as well as through service expansions by adding new ICAO aviation standards and new satellite-based communication solutions to support the future air traffic management of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. We are very proud to share this historic milestone for commercial aviation with the ESA Member States that have funded Iris activities and will continue to support it in the future.”

Joel Klooster, SVP Flight Safety and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), Viasat, said: “We are thrilled to see Iris flying with a leading airline such as easyJet, a crucial step on our pathway to reducing emissions and easing congestion in European skies. We want to thank all the partners who played a part in achieving this long-term goal, and we look forward to seeing the results of these first commercial flights. We anticipate the industry reaping the rewards of this innovation well into the future—and passengers and airlines alike will benefit tremendously.”

In 2022, Viasat and ESA signed a new contract to globalize its Iris program. Iris Global will focus on the technologies and certification required to extend the fuel, CO2, and congestion-saving benefits of Iris to regions beyond Europe, and such developments are already well underway.

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