Secure cockpit security services are today powered by Inmarsat and Iridium satellites on flights beyond VHF range, including over oceans. And these satcom services are also increasingly positioned as a complement to VHF in areas with congested infrastructure. But SITA sees a future where new satellite and ground communications providers enter the security fray to meet civil aviation capacity needs, including to potentially support hundreds of thousands of urban air mobility aircraft. (UAM).
“I think it’s going to be very dynamic, maybe not in a few years but in the next ten to twenty years,” Yann Cabaret, CEO of SITA for Aircraft, told Runway Girl Network in reference to the likelihood that new “ATG comms or new satellite networks” will eventually be offered for aviation security services.
Safety services include the transmission of ACARS, FANS, safety voices and other cockpit communication features.
“There will be more routes deployed, whether global or local/regional depending on regulations and type of aircraft,” Cabaret predicted, pointing to the anticipated wave of UAM-type aircraft arriving in the congested urban and suburban areas.
emerging electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), for example, are expected to carry passengers or cargo at lower altitudes. As such, the industry’s capacity and latency needs in the future “will be much greater than they are today,” Cabaret noted.
In Europe alone, the skies are expected to see a 50% increase in flights over the next 20 years, while recent estimates predict that 40 times more commercial drones will fly beyond line-of-sight by 2030 than commercial aircraft, according to Inmarsat.
Yet VHF radio links in Europe are already close to capacity, leading to flight delays and cancellations.
Therefore, in an effort to relieve the current pressure on congested VHF in Europe and meet future demand, Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) – comprising EU Member States and the United Uni – as well as about thirty partners are preparing to deploy their public/private air traffic management program Iris.
Iris is actually an application that relies on Inmarsat’s latest generation IP-based SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) service. Supporting the SESAR (Single European Sky’s ATM Research) blueprint, Iris can locate an aircraft in four dimensions (latitude, longitude, altitude and time) using “4D trajectories” that allow pilots and controllers to calculate the shortest routes available, navigate at optimum altitudes, and use continuous ascent and descent routes. This in turn saves fuel and reduces carbon emissions.
In addition, pilot-controller communications are shifting from voice communications to text messages.
Economic operator easyJet is the first airline partner of the Iris programme, having agreed to assess Iris capabilities on up to 11 Airbus A320neos which are due to start flying from November this year. The carrier will have Cobham’s lightweight cockpit satcom solution on these aircraft; the terminal is fully integrated with the Flight Operations & Maintenance Exchanger developed by Collins Aerospace and Airbus, Inmarsat said.
Antonio Garutti, Head of the Telecommunications System Project Office at ESA, previously explained to Runway Girl Network that while 4D calculations are being considered for Iris (as part of the SESAR program), the initial application would see Iris complete the terrestrial data link VHF Data Link Mode 2 communication in Europe.
“Right now, pilots mostly communicate with air traffic controllers by voice or using outdated data communications technology. This makes flight operations inefficient, as aircraft have to be far apart and follow predefined air corridors instead of taking the most direct route,” notes the ESA in an online statement. “Data exchanges will soon become the primary means of communication, with large amounts of data relayed to and from the aircraft.”
Iridium has also sought to advance VHF replacement in the cockpit security market and highlights its business in the Chinese domestic market and South America.
“Iridium has been used successfully with VHF [which is] still on the plane and hard to get to the point where they rip it all off, but operators love the idea of using satellites. The VHF is big, expensive, they don’t like it, it’s cluttered, the quality isn’t great. And so we also see more opportunity there because the bandwidth and capacity needs are more in line with the type of network that we have, and we’re not competing with the type of commodity game at the rear of the aircraft, which you know is not our market,” explained Iridium vice president and general manager for the Americas, Tim Last.
Is there an opportunity for Iridium to play in Iris in Europe, because it previously studied?
“The only thing I would say is to be really competitive there, we should probably increase the capacity from where we are today. You know, with our L band, we take care of the monetize, so we have critical security elements and we have a lot to do. And I think to go after that very aggressively, we probably need a little more spectrum in the right places to do that,” said answered Last.
“That’s why you know Polar and Oceanic and South America and China, those areas are sort of playgrounds that we’re happy to play in because we know where we’re going to be able to provide the quality of service that people want. Right now it’s a busy place [Europe]. It’s heavy for us in the maritime field and other things. I think right now that’s probably one, at least for aviation, where we’re not going to be very competitive. At least not in this kind of VHF replacement.
But even if Inmarsat and Iridium satellite services are used to relieve congested VHF in the short term, there will be room for more players in satellite and terrestrial communications to support security services in the future, according to SITA, the multinational computer company that is owned by members of the airline industry.
SITA is a service provider for Inmarsat’s Classic and SwiftBroadband-Safety services, as well as Iridium’s former and future next-generation aeronautical Certus service. And the company will begin adding SwiftBroadband-Safety and Certus for customers throughout the year, Cabaret said.
But, he said in reference to future new safety pipes, “[I] think the industry will need it.
“It won’t be able to carry 300,000 UAM by 2035,” he added, if optimistic industry forecasts materialize.
Featured image credited to SITA