easyJet has today been announced as the first airline partner of the ground-breaking Iris programme by Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA), which utilises the latest generation of satellite technology to modernise air traffic management (ATM).
One of Europe's leading airlines will play a central role in the Iris programme, which enables real-time collaboration between pilots, air traffic controllers and airline operation centres using secure, high-bandwidth data links. This minimises delays, saves fuel and reduces environmental impact for airlines, while also improving airspace usage to ease congestion and accommodate future growth.
Powered by Inmarsat’s award-winning SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) connectivity platform, Iris enables new ATM functionalities such as trajectory-based operations that pinpoint aircraft in four dimensions (latitude, longitude, altitude and time), which will allow the airline to avoid holding patterns, calculate the shortest available routes and optimum altitudes, and benefit from continuous climb and descent pathways. The additional datalink capacity provided by SB-S will power a host of powerful onboard digital applications, such as AI flight profile optimisers and real-time weather applications.
With the support of leading Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), easyJet will evaluate Iris’ transformative capabilities on up to 11 Airbus A320neos, set to begin flying from November 2022.
This partnership is the culmination of years of work and over €50 million investment by ESA, Inmarsat and more than 30 partners to develop the Iris programme. It also supports easyJet’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as part of the UN-backed ‘Race to Zero’ campaign, with an interim target of a 35% carbon emissions intensity improvement by 2035.
Philippe Carette, President of Inmarsat Aviation, said “The Iris programme from Inmarsat and ESA is a game-changer and we are delighted to have easyJet as our first airline partner. This is not only because of its pioneering commitment to innovation and reducing aviation’s environmental impact, but also because this kick-starts an exciting new era that will help make aviation greener and reduce congestion delays for passengers.”
Hugh McConnellogue, easyJet’s Director of Airport Operations and Navigation, said “Iris is paving the way for more efficient air traffic management, which is a crucial step forward for the aviation industry. The programme brings multiple benefits, from helping us to achieve our environmental goals by further reducing our carbon emissions, to providing a better experience for our passengers. We’re excited to be leading in this space, setting the standard for the industry and hope to see more airlines follow suit.”
Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “This innovation has been an enormous undertaking by ESA, Inmarsat and more than 30 other companies within the space and aviation industry, so to see it finally ‘take to the skies’ in a live operational environment is very exciting. European airspace is crying out for a solution to its capacity issues, and advanced satellite technology is the only way to set the industry up for a better – and greener – future.”
The easyJet Airbus A320neo aircraft have been linefitted with a Light Cockpit Satcom (LCS) solution powered by terminal manufacturer Cobham, which is integrated fully with the Flight Operations & Maintenance Exchanger (FOMAX) developed by Collins and Airbus.
Iris will enter commercial and operational service fully in Europe next year, supporting the Single European Sky’s ATM Research (SESAR) masterplan. It will be the first communication service to benefit from a Pan-European certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Earlier this month, Inmarsat and ESA signed a new contract to globalise the programme. Iris Global will focus on the technologies and certification required to share the fuel, CO2 and congestion-saving benefits of Iris with regions beyond Europe. To accelerate further ATM modernisation, it will also adopt System Wide Information Management (SWIM) applications to facilitate greater sharing of information such as airport operational status, weather information, flight data and airspace restrictions status. Research on future capabilities for the integration of uncrewed aviation into European airspace will also be supported.