easyJet has soared into the skies as the inaugural airline partner of the groundbreaking Iris program, spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and global communications company Viasat. The initiative leverages cutting-edge satellite technology to modernize air traffic management (ATM).
Next Generation Air Traffic Communication Service
The EASA-certified Iris service provider, ESSP, has engaged the support of 15 leading Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) for the first commercial flights across Europe this year, featuring up to 11 easyJet Airbus A320neo aircraft. This marks a European milestone in translating the Single European Skies initiative into practical application.
By utilizing Iris, easyJet aims to optimize aircraft operations for enhanced fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. Beyond specific airline benefits, the program plays a pivotal role in advancing airspace modernization throughout the aviation industry.
Airspace modernization and the resulting efficiency gains constitute a crucial aspect of the airline industry’s journey towards achieving net-zero emissions. In 2022, easyJet unveiled its interim science-based carbon reduction target, aiming for a 35% improvement in carbon emissions intensity by FY2035 based on a FY2020 baseline. This commitment aligns with easyJet’s overarching goal of attaining net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Efficient airspace utilization holds significant importance in the aviation sector’s efforts to reduce emissions, representing a readily attainable source of carbon reductions. This is due to the fact that more direct flight paths result in shorter flying times, leading to reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions. This achievement is critical for fulfilling the Single European Sky’s ATM Research (SESAR) ambition of delivering a 10% reduction in carbon emissions from European aviation.
Iris signifies a significant advancement in technology, providing swifter and more dependable satellite communications between aircraft and ground. This advancement supports air traffic controllers and pilots in achieving heightened operational efficiencies by determining the most efficient routes, cruising at optimal altitudes, and utilizing continuous climb and descent paths.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has spearheaded and financed Iris with the objective of aligning with the European Policy on Single European Skies. The solution offers comprehensive European coverage and is built on state-of-the-art, highly secure satellite communication mobile technologies. ESA has collaborated extensively with European aviation stakeholders, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to ensure Iris complies with both European and global aviation standards. To attain this objective, ESA has assembled a European industrial consortium comprising over twenty companies, with Viasat (recently acquiring Inmarsat) serving as the prime contractor.
Fueled by Viasat’s acclaimed SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) connectivity platform, Iris lays the groundwork for multilink data link communications—a fundamental element in implementing new air traffic management (ATM) functionalities.
Available as a fully developed and certified capability on Airbus A320 and A330 series aircraft, Iris facilitates the sharing of trajectory and intent-based operational information. This enables airlines to circumvent holding patterns, calculate the most direct routes and optimal altitudes, and take advantage of continuous climb and descent pathways.
Hugh McConnellogue, Director of Operations & Navigation at easyJet said:
“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, thereby reducing carbon emissions as well as enhancing our on time performance – which in turn improves our customers’ experiences.
“We’re thrilled to be paving the way in this area whilst working towards our goal to achieve our net-zero ambitions by 2050, as outlined in our roadmap.”
Charlotte Neyret, Chief Executive Officer, ESSP, said:
“These first commercial flights are bringing to reality a decade of both vision and investment in this new datalink communication solution to achieve safer and greener aviation. ESSP is delighted to operate this moment of synchronisation between 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 allows 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 put Europe firmly at the forefront of the digitalisation and modernisation of Air Traffic Management. Iris enables tangible benefits to the commercial aviation community and society at large, including reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and fewer delays for passengers through more efficient flight paths.
“As a follow on of Iris, Iris global, which was launched in 2022, aims to extend the benefit of Iris beyond Europe. This will be achieved through geographical expansion, including Asia, the USA, the Middle East and Australia, and through service expansions by adding new ICAO aviation standards as well as new satellite-based communication solutions for supporting 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 that 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. Even more than that, we look ahead to the industry reaping the rewards of this innovation well into the future – and to passengers and airlines alike benefitting immensely.”
In 2022, Viasat and ESA signed a new contract to globalise its Iris 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, and such developments are already well underway.