Smart tech and smart regulation can drive modernisation of Air Traffic Management in Europe’s congested skies


Short summary of the workshop jointly organised by SESAR Deployment Manager and the European Space Agency on 2 October 2019 (see event details here)

New satellite-based communication system Iris offers a resilient and complimentary solution towards ATM modernisation.

Satellite-based communications systems such as Iris, a Data Link Service (DLS) system funded and promoted by the European Space Agency (ESA), will add a safe, resilient, and secure solution to the ongoing Air Traffic Management (ATM) modernisation program in Europe’s congested airspace.

Performance-based regulation must also be developed, rather than hard mandates, to underpin the program, ATM stakeholders heard at a one-day event organised yesterday by SESAR Deployment Manager and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The event brought together stakeholders from across ATM, to learn more about Iris as a ready-technology solution to complement the existing VDL2 terrestrial technology.

Keynote speakers painted a picture of the current landscape, reflecting on past challenges, exploring new systems, and looking forward to the adoption of new technologies and ideas.

Christine Berg, Head of Single European Sky Unit – DG Move – European Commission said there was no silver bullet to aviation’s twin challenges of digitalisation and decarbonisation, but highlighted that ATM has an important contribution to make of between a five and ten percent reduction in air traffic carbon emissions.

“The modernisation of ATM in the EU has been too slow, and mistakes have been made, with stakeholders unwilling to invest within the right timeframe, seeking exemptions, and inertia setting in”, she said.

Nicolas Warinsko, General Manager, SESAR Deployment Manager said SESAR DM had put industry in the driving seat, which was important as modernisation was a common challenge.

“It will happen through digitalisation,” he said “And when talk about that, we are talking about Data Link and we have to think about how we can do that faster.”

He said the current VDL2 was not enough and that the tech needed to be extended.

He added that Iris provided a complementary solution, which yesterday’s event was designed to raise awareness about, as well as to create trust and interest in satellite solutions.

Iacopo Prissinotti, Director, Network Manager, said a complimentary solution to VDL2, needed to be found and that the SATCOM revolution, as a complimentary mode of communication, was a good step.

“We need to make an effort all together as an industry, and we will make it in the end a success,” he said.

Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and integrated applications, European Space Agency said Iris was a flexible, scalable, safe, and secure, fully-integrated system, which could even become a global solution. It uses the existing satellite structure and is already fully compliant with aviation standards, she said.

Phil Balaam, President, Inmarsat Aviation, Inmarsat, on whose tech the Isis is based, echoed the opening remarks by calling for clarity.

“We are seeing cultural change around environmental impacts,” he said.

“One of the main messages that I wanted to bring from our side is that this is not science fiction or tomorrow’s tech, this is something for today”

“At the end of the day this will be business decision and there is competition for capital and resources and without clarity you can’t make those decisions.”

A series of round table discussions in the afternoon gave stakeholders an opportunity to learn in more detail about the Iris solution and understand timescales, scalability and investment required.

Panelists explained that Iris was a cost-effective, fit for purpose solution, which would work in harmony with VDL2.

Warinsko and Vaissiere explained the main take outs from the day were the importance of performance-based regulatory framework and the potential of Iris and satellite comms systems as a solid, safe, secure, resilient, and potential global solution.


  1. Smarter and performance driven legislation is a need to effectively support the transition towards a more sustainable and digitalised aviation sector. A stable framework that should reward early movers and consequently upgrading the system.

  2. Saturation of the ATM network is expected by mid-next decade, based on the current VDLM2 implementation and forecast growth of the traffic. Satellite communication represents a solid safe and resilient solution both in terms of performance, implementation readiness.

  3. Workshops and event related to Iris will be organized on a regular basis to further increase awareness on the programme progress towards the final goal of operational readiness. Enlarging the level of active support to the Iris Roadmap by all stakeholders is paramount to timely achieve the commercialization of Iris as a service.

  4. ESA, SDM and SJU will continue to actively cooperate on IRIS.