(L-R): Joel Klooster, SVP Aircraft Operations and Safety, Viasat; Antonio Garutti, Head of Telecommunications System Projects Office, ESA; Charlotte Neyret, CEO, ESSP. Credit: ESSP

TAMPA, Fla. — A group founded by European air traffic controllers has signed a deal to bring improved airspace-tracking capabilities from Viasat’s constellation to market next year.

The European Satellite Services Provider group, or ESSP, said July 6 it will be responsible for leading the commercialization of Iris, an air traffic modernization program the European Space Agency developed with Viasat’s recently acquired satellite operator Inmarsat.

Iris — not to be confused with Europe’s proposed IRIS² connectivity constellation — promises to help aircraft fly more efficient routes by using Inmarsat’s L-band satellites to complement congested VHF data links.

According to ESA, fitting aircraft with higher bandwidth Iris technology would give air traffic controllers more data to schedule landings in advance, minimize fuel consumption, and maximize airspace and airport capacity.

Communications between pilots and controllers could also move from voice to text messages under the upgraded air traffic management (ATM) system, improving operational safety and efficiency.

Iris forms a part of the Single European Sky’s Air Traffic Management Research master plan proposed in 2020 to create more environmentally sustainable and efficient flight paths.

France-based ESSP was initially set up in 2001 so their air navigation shareholders could participate in the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service program, which Europe uses to augment and improve GPS services in the region.

ESSP currently comprises the air navigation service providers of France, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

U.K.-based easyJet and ITA Airways of Italy are among the first airlines intending to operate early Iris services next year, according to ESSP.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...