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Iridium Safety Voice Communications Installed in More than 500 Aircraft

By Hayley Spillane | March 7, 2017
      Iridium NEXT SNOC

      Iridium’s Satellite Network Operating Center (SNOC). Photo: Iridium

      Iridium Communications announced that more than 500 aircraft as of February 2017 have adopted its Safety Voice service, which is used for air traffic communications. The Iridium Safety Voice service provides aircraft operators with an alternative to existing HF radio systems, replacing them with a secure satellite-based option for long-range communications.

      In August of 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 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 more than a 100 percent increase in active airframes using the Safety Voice service between 2015 and 2017. The ability to add a satellite system using the Iridium network as an alternative to a second HF system has several benefits, according to the company, including lower power requirements, lighter-weight equipment, and better quality and coverage, resulting in increased efficiency and fuel economy.

      “The Iridium Safety Voice service adds elements of safety, security and efficiency that are not available with traditional, high-frequency systems,” said Brian Pemberton, vice president and general manager for aviation at Iridium. “Adding Safety Voice to the existing FANS 1/A data capability enables a full suite of long-range flightdeck safety communications for efficient and cost-effective air traffic control.”

      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 January 14. 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. In total, the operational Iridium Next constellation will consist of 66 satellites with nine satellites serving as on-orbit spares.