SITA delivers key support for European airspace modernization project to add capacity to Europe’s ATC comms system

The first ATN multilink deployment depends on SITA Backbone Service for connectivity and message distribution.

SITA is the world’s leading specialist in air transport communications and information technology is supporting Viasat, a global leader in satellite communications, in the launch of its Iris service, providing Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) for the first time across the satellite network over continental Europe. The service delivers an additional air/ground communications channel providing increased capacity to the overall air traffic control communications system in Europe.

The pre-commercial flight phase of the Iris program began in January, with easyJet as the launch airline. Additional airlines are expected to join the Iris service during 2024.

SITA’s ATN Backbone Service distributes messages (principally air traffic control clearances) between pilots and air traffic controllers in both air-to-ground and ground-to-air directions. The Viasat Iris satellite communications service securely delivers CPDLC and ADS-C messages directly into the SITA ATN Backbone Service for distribution to ANSPs across Europe.

Pan-European capacity boost

Iris adds multi-link capacity in the European sky to existing ATN messaging services for air traffic control communications that SITA currently provides over its VHF Data Link Mode 2 (VDL-M2) radio network. The new service provides aircraft with an additional air/ground communications network service, which will add more resilience to the overall ATC communications system in Europe in response to continued growth in traffic volumes.

As provider of an ATN Backbone Service in Europe, SITA has been a partner and supplier to the Iris programme from the outset. The European Space Agency (ESA) led and funded the Iris programme with the aim of supporting the European Policy on Single European Skies through a solution that has full European coverage and is based on state of the art, highly secure, satellite communication mobile technologies provided by Viasat in partnership with ESSP for the distribution of the Iris service to European ANSPs.

The EASA-certified Iris service provider ESSP (European Satellite Service Provider) has involved 19 leading Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in support of the first commercial flights taking place across Europe this year, using the SITA ATN backbone.

Worldwide first

Commenting on the in-service introduction of Iris, Joel Klooster, SVP Flight Safety and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) at Viasat, said: “The operational introduction of the Iris service marks a key moment for Viasat and our partners in reaching the long-term goal of reducing emissions and easing congestion across Europe’s skies. SITA is playing a key role through its ATN Backbone Service– fulfilling a shared goal since the initial operational capability phase was launched in 2018. And it marks a first for the aviation industry worldwide”.

Yann Cabaret, CEO SITA FOR AIRCRAFT, echoed those sentiments in his own reaction to the launch of Iris. “At SITA, we have been using satellite technology since its earliest days, but this is the first time we have added space-led communications into the multi-link communications environment in Europe. This has enabled us to realize the added benefits of increased capacity and resilience, supporting a more efficient and sustainable European sky.”