Global satellite telecommunications firm Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) have concluded the first test flight for their Iris programme, which is aimed at modernising air traffic in Europe.

Sponsored by the ESA, the Iris programme is a public-private partnership which is led by Inmarsat and aims to offer a secure, high bandwidth datalink communications over Europe.

The test flight was conducted for three hours using advanced aviation satellite technology.

It is hoped that the technology will help to decongest airspace, slash flight times and delays, provide precise flight surveillance and efficient air traffic management.

The Iris programme test flight was carried out onboard a Cessna Citation II aircraft flying from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

“All performance objectives were met and now the Iris consortium moves on to the next major milestone, the objective of making Iris an operational system in 2020.”

It was supported by the Iris technology partners Honeywell, CGI and SITAONAIR using Inmarsat’s SB-S L-band service.

Numerous real-time communication exchanges were completed during the test between the cockpit and flight control facility over continental and oceanic airspace.

Inmarsat Aviation Safety and Operational Services vice-president John Broughton said: “The results of our highly-successful test flight with ESA bring the Iris programme a step closer to certification by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) and making this ground-breaking technology commercially available for airlines.

“With terrestrial datalink technologies reaching their capacity limits in the next ten years, the Iris programme has become an even more essential part of the Single European Sky initiative.

“All performance objectives were met and now the Iris consortium moves on to the next major milestone, the objective of making Iris an operational system in 2020.”

Powered by Inmarsat’s new SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) platform, the new IP-based capabilities will move pilot-controller communications from voice communications to a high-speed data link. This will lessen pressure on the crowded very high frequency (VHF) channels, which are near capacity.

Large-scale validation of the Iris programme is slated to be conducted by the first airlines in 2020, with a fully-operational service targeted for the following year.