Paris, France: Member States of the European Space Agency (ESA) have launched the early development phase of the Single European Sky 'Iris' programme, a research initiative designed to improve air traffic management through satellite-based air-to-ground communication links.
Through the programme, pilots and flight controllers will benefit from exchanging data and communicating via satellite and terrestrial systems in the future Single European Sky network.
The Single European Sky programme was launched by the European Commission (EC) in 2004, and visualized a new approach to air traffic management in Europe. Under the initiative, the EC set up a specific programme, the Single European Sky Air traffic management Research (SESAR), to address administrative, operational and technical concepts for communication, navigation and surveillance for air traffic safety.
Through the progarmme, satellites will now have the opportunity to demonstrate their potential for safety-of-life communications. So far, they have mainly addressed non-safety-critical communications, such as passenger telephone calls and Internet connectivity.
By 2020 global air travel is expected to double, resulting in increasing ground and air congestion. To address this problem, a new, independent air-to-ground link for aircraft communications is required.
Through the 'Iris' programme, the EC hopes to reduce delays, increase safety and also be more cost effective. Satellites will be very handy as they can not only deploy additional capacity over vast areas rapidly, but also tailor it to regional requirements. By interacting seamlessly between continental, oceanic and polar routes, satellites offer a unique opportunity for safety improvements and the provision of additional services to crews.
Furthermore, oceanic routes are still served by the High Frequency (HF) band, which allows only the most basic forms of communication between pilot and ground. Various countries also operate different systems, which places further burden on aircraft systems.
A satellite system would provide a much more homogenous solution and would act as a complement to a terrestrial network, or as the primary system in some areas. When coupled with navigation systems like Galileo, satellite communications can even contribute to optimising aircraft trajectories.
The Iris programme will support in-orbit verification and certification of the pre-operational system, technical support for deployment of the full system, and preliminary work leading to an enhanced future role for satellites.
Pending approval of development proposals by the ESA Council next year, system development will begin in mid 2009. The Iris program is part of the Single European Sky Air traffic management Research (Sesar) program, adopted by the European Commission in 2004.
According to the ESA, satellite-based aircraft communication systems will improve communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers, reduce delays and enable optimal routing, thereby saving on fuel and flight time and reducing pollution.
The ESA is working with the European space industry, Eurocontrol, air navigation service providers and national space agencies to develop the programme.