Iridium boosts air traffic communications

Tuesday, 07 March, 2017

Iridium boosts air traffic communications

More than 500 aircraft have adopted the Iridium safety voice service for air traffic communications.

The service provides aircraft operators with an alternative to existing HF radio systems, replacing them with a secure, satellite-based option for long-range communications.

The ability to add a satellite system using the Iridium network as an alternative to a second HF system has several benefits, including lower power requirements, lighter-weight equipment and better quality and coverage, resulting in increased efficiency and fuel economy.

"With the launch of Iridium NEXT and Iridium Certus products, aircraft operators will soon have access to high-quality, global and cost-effective satcom solutions, with unparalleled performance, that will positively impact their bottom lines,” said Brian Pemberton, vice president and general manager, aviation at Iridium.

Iridium is currently launching Iridium NEXT, the company’s next-generation global satellite constellation. All existing Iridium aviation services, including the safety voice service, are compatible with the new constellation. The first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were launched into low Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 14 January 2017. Seven additional SpaceX launches are scheduled to take place over the next 12 to 15 months, delivering a total of 75 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit, including the second launch now targeted for mid-June 2017. In total, the operational Iridium NEXT constellation will consist of 66 satellites, with nine satellites serving as on-orbit spares. 

In August 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) distributed an ‘Information for Operators’ (InFO) notice alerting aircraft operators of the modifications required to comply with Policy Letter 106, which outlines how aircraft may operate with one HF radio and one satellite communications (SATCOM) platform over the West Atlantic Routing System (WATRS).

The Iridium safety voice service features a dialing system requiring multiple user authentication steps for in-flight communications in addition to a call priority system, ensuring urgent communications are not interrupted.

Over the past few years Iridium has seen substantial adoption of its aviation services, with a more than 100% increase in active airframes using the safety voice service between 2015 and 2017. 

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