easyJet takes to the skies with Iris: Next generation Air Traffic Communication Service

January 29, 2024

Ground-breaking Iris satellite-based datalink technology enters commercial service, enabling airspace optimisation to ease congestion and reduce delays and emissions for airlines

easyJet has taken to the skies as the first airline partner of the ground-breaking Iris programme, an initiative led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and global communications company Viasat, which is using the latest generation of satellite technology to help modernise air traffic management (ATM).

The EASA-certified Iris service provider ESSP has involved 15 leading Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in support of the first commercial flights taking place across Europe this year – with up to 11 easyJet Airbus A320neo aircraft taking part. This initiative is a European first in putting the Single European Skies initiative into action.

Through the use of Iris, easyJet  will be able to operate its aircraft as efficiently as possible to achieve further fuel burn improvements and emissions reductions. More broadly, the programme will be a key component in helping deliver airspace modernisation across the industry.

Airspace modernisation and subsequent gains in efficiencies is one crucial element in the airline industry’s path to net zero. In 2022, easyJet announced its interim science-based carbon reduction target – 35% carbon emissions intensity improvement by FY2035, on a FY2020 baseline. This came as part of the airline’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

More efficient use of airspace is crucial for aviation to reduce emissions, as it is the most achievable source of carbon reductions right now. This is because more direct flight paths lead to shorter flying times, and thus use less fuel burn and generate fewer emissions.  Achieving this will be critical to reaching the Single European Sky’s ATM Research (SESAR) ambition to deliver 10% carbon emissions savings from European aviation.

Iris represents an important technology evolution, delivering faster and more reliable satellite communications between the aircraft and the ground. This will help air traffic controllers and pilots to achieve further operational efficiencies, by calculating the shortest available routes, cruising at optimum altitudes, and using continuous climb and descent paths.

ESA has led and funded Iris 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. This has been carried out by ESA in full coordination with European aviation stakeholders, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to ensure Iris is fully compliant with European and worldwide aviation needs and requirements. In order to achieve this goal ESA has set up a European industrial consortium of more than twenty companies, with Viasat (which recently acquired Inmarsat) as prime contractor.

Powered by Viasat’s award-winning SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) connectivity platform, Iris paves the way for multilink data link communications – a cornerstone to implementing new ATM functionalities. 
Offered as a fully developed and certified capability by Airbus on the A320 andA330 series aircraft, Iris shares trajectory and intent-based operational information, allowing airlines to avoid holding patterns, calculate the shortest available routes and optimum altitudes, and benefit from 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. 

Image credit: Image courtesy of John Ballantyne.

About easyJet

easyJet is Europe’s leading airline offering a unique and winning combination of the best route network connecting Europe's primary airports, with great value fares and friendly service.

easyJet flies on more of Europe’s most popular routes than any other airline and carried more than 69 million passengers in 2022 – with 9.5 million travelling for business. The airline has over 300 aircraft on nearly 1000 routes to more than 150 airports across 35 countries. Over 300 million Europeans live within one hour's drive of an easyJet airport.

easyJet aims to be a good corporate citizen, employing people on local contracts in eight countries across Europe in full compliance with national laws and recognising their trade unions. The airline supports several local charities and has a corporate partnership with UNICEF which has raised over £16m for the most vulnerable children since it was established in 2012.

The airline joined the UN-backed Race to Zero in November 2021 and has published its roadmap to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with a focus on new technology and the ultimate ambition to achieve zero carbon emission flying across its entire fleet, which the airline is working on together with its partners including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace, and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions. The roadmap also features a combination of fleet renewal, operational efficiencies, airspace modernisation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel and carbon removal technology. Additionally, it includes an interim carbon emissions intensity reduction target of 35% by 2035 (versus 2019). Since 2000, the airline has already reduced its carbon emissions per passenger, per kilometre by one-third through continued fleet renewal, efficient operations and aiming to fill most of its seats.

Innovation is in easyJet’s DNA – since launching over 25 years ago, easyJet changed the way people fly to the present day where the airline leads the industry in digital, web, engineering and operational innovations to make travel more easy and affordable for its passengers.

About Viasat

Viasat is a global communications company that believes everyone and everything in the world can be connected. With offices in 24 countries around the world, our mission shapes how consumers, businesses, governments and militaries around the world communicate and connect. Viasat is developing the ultimate global communications network to power high-quality, reliable, secure, affordable, fast connections to positively impact people's lives anywhere they are—on the ground, in the air or at sea, while building a sustainable future in space. On May 30, 2023, Viasat completed its acquisition of Inmarsat, combining the teams, technologies and resources of the two companies to create a new global communications partner. Learn more at www.viasat.com, the Viasat News Room or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X or YouTube.

About ESSP

ESSP SAS (European Satellite Services Provider) is a company owned by 7 keys European ANSPs (Air Navigation Service Providers). ESSP’s core business is the provision of space-based Communication, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) services. As multi-service CNS provider, we operate complex space-based systems and deliver critical services under strict regulation conditions. ESSP, is a private company certified by EASA in Navigation and Communication satellite-based service provision.

Our mission is to boost the potential of space-based technologies in critical operations, offering safe and secure services for greener and more connected worlds. We enable satellite technologies to power today's transport solutions around the world, providing essential 24/7 services to air navigation service providers and airspace users. ESSP offers specific engineering expertise including performance and network management of the latest space-based technologies such as but not limited to:

  • GNSS for Navigation
  • Datalink for Communications
  • ADS-B technology in Surveillance

Learn more at https://www.essp-sas.eu/, the ESSP News or follow us on LinkedIn, X or YouTube.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia are Associate Members.

ESA has established formal cooperation with four Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

Media Contacts

ESSP contacts:
Francisca Andrada, Francisca.Andrada@essp-sas.eu