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Satellite Communications & Commercial Aviation exPLANEd

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Among the segments that make up the aviation market, commercial aviation is one of the largest and fastest growing. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the commercial aircraft market size is projected to reach $192.76 billion in value by 2030. With commercial aircraft transporting people and goods across the entire planet, reliable communications technology, especially satellite communications (SATCOM) solutions are a must.

So, buckle your seatbelts and put your seat backs in the upright position, it’s time to learn about how Iridium® SATCOM keeps commercial aircraft connected.


What Is Commercial Aviation?

Think big-name commercial airliners that transport people and goods from point A to point B. These aircraft require robust connectivity onboard that can enable critical communications for pilots in the cockpit, flight crew members, aircraft telematics and safety applications. Iridium has been a leader in the industry for over a decade and has worked alongside global regulators including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC), Systems Architecture and Interfaces Subcommittee (SAI), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to set carriage requirements and standards.

For commercial aviation, Iridium offers many unique benefits. Iridium is the only interconnected satellite network that covers the entire planet with reliable, L-band satellite connectivity (including the polar regions), making communications possible across the global airspace, from any altitude and even during adverse weather conditions. The solutions for commercial aircraft feature low-gain, lightweight antennas that are solid state and utilize either electronic steering or omnidirectional technology – depending on your ‘need for speed’ – all of which makes for highly competitive options in comparison to other connectivity providers. Iridium solutions create a very small footprint and induce far less parasitic drag on the aircraft, helping cut down on fuel costs. Additionally, they are built using an industry-standard bolt pattern that simplifies installation. The terminals are available through a wide range of industry-leading manufacturers, offering end users choice and diversity of suppliers.
Now that we’ve covered the background information, let’s (sky)dive into the four main ways Iridium connects commercial aircraft.


Cockpit SATCOM

This technology is primarily data-driven and supports non-safety applications like aircraft operations and flight information, including graphical weather data, flight plan updates and navigation chart and terrain database updates to be quickly shared with ground operations.


Flight Crew Communications

In addition to the cockpit, Iridium connects the crew. With these services, crew can make voice and data calls and critical in-flight group operations, such as passenger list management, in-flight credit card processing, inventory restocking, logistics management and equipment malfunction alerting. Crew members are also able to make emergency calls for telemedicine purposes.


Aircraft Monitoring

While monitoring aircraft location in the sky is extremely important, it is also crucial to monitor what is happening within the aircraft itself. Iridium enables connected aircraft technology that gives flight crew members and ground operators the ability to track the health of an aircraft through system monitoring and maintenance applications. Operators can see which parts need maintenance and can intervene at the next destination. This ability to conduct proactive and preventative maintenance can greatly increase in-flight efficiencies and cut down costs.


Aviation Safety

Here is where Iridium sets itself apart from the pack, but it’s also where things get a bit complicated. With this in mind, we did our best to keep it short and simple. Iridium satellite communications enable a number of safety services for aircraft, many of which are required by regulatory authorities.


Aeronautical Mobile Satellite (Route) Service (AMS(R)S)

AMS(R)S is a globally regulated aviation safety service. It is comprised of both voice and data services enabling communication between aircraft and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), also known as air traffic control.

The voice component is called Air Traffic Service Safety Voice (ATS Safety Voice) and the data component is called Future Air Navigation Service (FANS).

ATS Safety Voice

Iridium ATS Safety Voice operates under requirements and guidelines set by ICAO and ensures that these safety-related voice calls are prioritized over all other voice and data communications.


FANS, which is only used for remote, oceanic and polar operations, is comprised of two kinds of data messages – Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C) and Controller-Pilot Datalink Communication (CPDLC).

  • ADS-C messages send a “here I am” message from the aircraft to the ANSP. These messages contain position information and can be sent at predetermined intervals automatically or by request of the ANSP.
  • CPDLC messages contain operational information and communicate information such as departure clearances, flight path changes, re-routes and weather information. CPDLC helps make air traffic management more efficient by reducing the overall need for voice communication with air traffic control.


Today, Iridium is used for safety operations on thousands of aircraft today from business jets to Airbus and Boeing aircraft, as well as global cargo operators enabling the safe delivery of people and goods.

Looking ahead, Iridium is working to introduce Aeronautical Telecommunication-Open Systems Interconnection (ATN/OSI) and Aeronautical Telecommunications-Internet Protocol Suite (ATN/IPS) services. ATN/OSI, an inter-network architecture that allows ground/ground, air/ground, and avionic data subnetworks to interoperate by adopting common interface services and protocols, is based on Open Systems Interconnection and has been adopted to aviation applications. The more efficient ATN/IPS is based on modern Internet Protocol (IP), and Iridium Certus® is targeted to support these services in the future.

Learn more about Iridium’s commercial aviation and transport products and services.

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