Alaska’s ecoDemonstrator To Test Next Generation Air Traffic Control

Alaska Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 9, which is being used as this year’s Boeing ecoDemonstrator, will be flight testing Inmarsat’s Iris technology for the first time. Iris enables real-time collaboration between pilots, air traffic control, and airline operations centers using secure, resilient data connections. It is seen as the backbone of the next generation of air traffic control, with the potential to significantly increase efficiencies and lower the industry’s carbon footprint.

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Inmarsat is working with Boeing and Alaska Airlines to test its Iris technology on this year’s ecoDemonstrator. Photo: Inmarsat

ecoDemonstraor to flight test Inmarsat’s Iris

Alaska Airlines’ ecoDemonstrator 737 MAX 9 is pioneering some interesting technology that could have a significant impact on aviation’s environmental impact. The Boeing has been installed with Inmarsat technology to commence the first flight trails of the Iris air traffic modernization solution.

In partnership with the European Space Agency, Iris is a key component of the modernization of air traffic management. It uses highly secure, ultra-resilient connectivity to communicate with aircraft in real-time, reliving the oversubscribed VHF radio links to planes and bringing initiatives like the Single European Sky closer to reality.

John Broughton, Inmarsat’s Senior Vice President of Aircraft Operations and Safety Services, said,

“Inmarsat’s Iris programme is a great example of the vast benefits a digitised aviation industry will offer. By modernising air traffic management, there is significant potential to drive environmental efficiencies and cut aviation’s carbon emissions. We’re proud to be involved in this future-facing research and look forward to working closely with other members of the Boeing ecoDemonstrator programme to enable a more sustainable future of flying.”

Iris can pinpoint operational aircraft in four dimensions – latitude, longitude, altitude, and time. This will enable flights to be tracked with absolute precision, and then managed from the ground to allow shorter flight routes, optimum cruise altitudes and paths of continuous climb and descent.

As well as this, communications between pilot and controllers moves from voice to text, driving down the likelihood of errors and increasing flight safety. The solution is seen as the answer to next generation flight management, and a much-needed makeover for air traffic control.

Significant carbon savings

The ecoDemonstrator aircraft will test out and assess the Iris solution for air traffic control and operational communications on a number of flights across the United States. Powered by ELERA, the system will be put through its paces, allowing developers to assess it in action for the first time.

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It’s the first flight test of the technology. Photo: Inmarsat
The impact of such a development cannot be understated. In Europe, where fragmented airspace frequently leads to circuitous routings and inefficient flight paths, having a better system in place has been calculated to be capable of saving between 5% and 10% of the aviation industry’s Co2 emissions.

Rae Lutters, ecoDemonstrator Programme Manager at Boeing, said,

“We’re excited to be partnering with Inmarsat in our ecoDemonstrator programme this year. We selected the Iris solution for testing, as it is closely aligned to our own commitment to reduce the environmental impact of modern aircraft. We are looking forward to evaluating Iris in a live flying environment and exploring the real-life impact such innovative technology could have when implemented on a global scale.”

Inmarsat plans to roll out Iris in 2023 in Europe, expanding its reach globally over the next decade.


Alaska’s ecoDemonstrator To Test Next Generation Air Traffic Control

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