Information technology and business process services firm CGI has been awarded a £2.8m contract by Inmarsat, which will support data communications between the pilot and air traffic controller within the European airspace.

The contract will comprise safety systems development, integration and IT security services of Iris Precursor.

Inmarsat is a global mobile satellite communications services provider that acts as the safety communications provider for 98% of airlines. It was awarded the Iris Precursor contract by the European Space Agency (ESA).

As a part of the contract, CGI will develop key Iris Precursor safety and security features needed for future European air traffic management communications.

"The Iris Precursor project is a key initiative that paves the way for our SwiftBroadband service to meet the European regulations and standards for data link communications."

Inmarsat’s existing service, SwiftBroadband, is already in use by airlines and claims to offer extra reliability and protection required for safety critical air traffic management (ATM) operations.

CGI will develop ground-based gateways that will allow the SwiftBroadband system to interface with the European ATM Network (EATMN) and integrate security measures for protecting the over-the-air communications link from cyber attack.

The systems will be sent for initial flight trials in 2016 after undergoing rigorous validation and verification tests to assure adherence to safety and security requirements.

Iris Precursor will be developed while taking into consideration future applications planned through the Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) programme, which will include the ability to update flight plans en-route and improve the sequencing of aircraft into busy airports which would help in providing major benefits in terms of airspace efficiency, fuel consumption and CO² emissions.

Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said: "The Iris Precursor project is a key initiative that paves the way for our SwiftBroadband service to meet the European regulations and standards for data link communications and play an integral role in the future of European air traffic services infrastructure.

"CGI’s role in developing, integrating and deploying the required ground network systems is a central component of the work and we selected the company based on its deep space industry experience, safety and security systems expertise, and proven delivery track record."

Iris Precursor will provide the technologies that will be used for air-ground communications for initial ‘4D’ flight path control which will help in pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions, latitude, longitude, altitude and time.

CGI vice-president Space, Defence and National Security in the UK Steve Smart said: "This is a high-profile project with the goal of improving air traffic management communications across Europe. We have a long history of developing secure and safety-critical software systems for the space industry and have the experienced team needed to successfully deliver this innovative project."

The use of this system would allow air traffic control to offer better routings, sequence aircraft far in advance and maximise airport and airspace capacity.

Image: Digital data links via satellite. Photo: courtesy of the European Space Agency.