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.
Inmarsat delivers world leading, innovative, advanced and exceptionally reliable global, mobile communications across the world – in the air, at sea and on land – that are enabling a new generation of commercial, government and mission-critical services. Inmarsat is powering the digitalisation of the maritime industry, making operations more efficient and safer than ever before. It is driving a new era of inflight passenger services for aviation, while ensuring that aircraft can fly with maximum efficiency and safety. Furthermore, Inmarsat is enabling the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and enabling the next wave of world-changing technologies that will underpin the connected society and help build a sustainable future. And now Inmarsat is developing the first-of-its-kind, multi-dimensional communications network of the future, ORCHESTRA.
In November 2021, Inmarsat and Viasat announced the planned combination of the two companies, to create a new leader in global communications. The deal is scheduled to close in the second half of 2022.
easyJet is Europe’s leading airline offering a unique and winning combination of the best route network connecting Europe’s primary airports, with great value fares and friendly service. easyJet flies on more of Europe’s most popular routes than any other airline and carried more than 96 million passengers in 2019 – more than 16 million travelling for business. The airline has over 300 aircraft on nearly 1000 routes to more than 150 airports across 35 countries. Over 300 million Europeans live within one hour’s drive of an easyJet airport.
easyJet aims to be a good corporate citizen, employing people on local contracts in eight countries across Europe in full compliance with national laws and recognising their trade unions. The airline supports several local charities and has a corporate partnership with UNICEF which has raised over £14m for the most vulnerable children since it was established in 2012.
The airline takes sustainability seriously and is committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions flying by 2050. Together with its partners, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and Wright Electric, easyJet is working to accelerate the development of zero-emission aircraft technology. In the meantime, the airline is offsetting the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all its flights, at no additional cost to its customers, and only supports projects that are certified by Gold Standard or the Verified Carbon Standard, internationally recognised certification schemes. In addition, easyJet continues to renew its fleet, operate efficiently, and aims to fill most of its seats.
Innovation is in easyJet’s DNA – since launching over 25 years ago, easyJet changed the way people fly to the present day where the airline leads the industry in digital, web, engineering and operational innovations to make travel more easy and affordable for its passengers. The airline was named as Britain’s Most Admired Company of 2020 in the transport sector, retaining the leading position for a second year running. Britain’s Most Admired Companies study is the longest-running annual survey of corporate reputation in the UK.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.
The Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Directorate (TIA) supports innovation to boost the competitiveness of European industry in the global space market. This involves a wide range of activities, from space-based technology, systems, products for telecommunications development to the down-to-Earth application of space-based services. It also calls for engagement with a wide range of industrial, academic, and institutional partners.
Featured image credited to easyJet