40 Success Stories: When Inmarsat Made Room for More Aircraft in the Sky

Image via Inmarsat

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of APEX EXPO this year, we’re looking back at APEX members’ most significant achievements. Today, we explore how Inmarsat’s satellite communications helped to significantly accelerate the growth of the global economy.

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In 1990, a business jet became the first aircraft to begin flying with mobile satellite services developed by Inmarsat, with the aim of extending voice and data communications in aviation using satellite technology. Fast forward to today, and Inmarsat’s satellite communications are used by more than 200 airlines as well as jet operators and government agencies. It is installed on 90% of oceanic aircraft.

The introduction of Inmarsat’s Classic Aero satcom service extended the scope of existing datalink services used to communicate with air traffic control over the ocean for the first time. This was done through ARINC and SITA’s aircraft communications addressing and reporting systems (ACARS). The new global satellite communication capabilities offered by Inmarsat resulted in a reduction in aircraft separation standards, meaning three times more aircraft could fly in any given airspace. This contributed to the growth of the global economy, to which aviation is responsible for contributing $2.7 trillion and 65 million jobs.

Like all successes, Inmarsat’s satcom service had many contributors. Inmarsat began designing the solution in 1985 together with industry working groups including ARINC, the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) and ICAO’s Aeronautical Mobile Communications Panel (AMCP), before companies such as Ball Aerospace, Rockwell Collins (now Collins Aerospace) and Racal Electronics (now Thales) started working to validate the technology in 1987. Manufacturing of the relevant antennas and avionics began in 1988.

The new global satellite communication capabilities offered by Inmarsat resulted in a reduction in aircraft separation standards, meaning three times more aircraft could fly in any given airspace.

As a result of this major collaboration, Inmarsat’s satellite communications service served as the basis for ICAO’s Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Route Service (AMSRS) which defined standards for all future air navigation services. These standards covered operational performance as well as the required function of avionics. Inmarsat satcom ultimately became a key component of ICAO’s Future Air Navigation System (FANS) concept created in 1988, for which Inmarsat helped the AMCP to create Standards and Recommended Practices.

Helios estimates that satellite communications generated $3 billion in savings for the aviation industry from 2001-2016. And going forward, with the advent of fully digital aircraft operations, the London School of Economics (LSE) estimates there will be $15 billion in annual savings due to operating efficiencies generated by satellite communications from 2035.

Inmarsat continues its tradition of innovation. With its recently-certified SB-S service, Inmarsat offers the world’s first and only global broadband solution for aircraft operations and safety communications, driving digital transformation in the airline industry. Combining cutting-edge satellite technology with secure IP connectivity, it provides airlines with capabilities and benefits no other satellite communications provider can deliver. Inmarsat’s SB-S is already being used by United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines and brings the best of operational connectivity into the 21st century. Imagine what the next 40 years will look like.

Inmarsat, like the APEX EXPO, is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of its inception in 2019.

See more posts from the 40 Success Stories campaign.