Remote Aerodrome Control:
Remote aerodrome control is a very new and exciting concept, and involves controlling aerodrome traffic from a remote location, using a 360 degree wraparound screen. Live traffic streams and weather feeds give the controller access to the facilities required to complete their job. The development of these ‘towers’ is primarily focused on saving air navigation service providers (ANSP’s) money. However, there is potential for a significant amount of other benefits.
|The New Era Of ATC|
|Video embedded from YouTube on 19 August 2012|
How Remote Control Towers work:
Cameras are strategically placed around an airfield to ensure a 360 degree view is captured for the controller. These views are then streamed to a 360 degree wraparound screen, which the controller sits in front of. Even though the controller is possibly hundreds of miles away from the actual aerodrome, it is possible to create an atmosphere to make it appear realistic. This atmopsphere is created by the inclusion of many technial features that enhance the situational awareness of the controller. This includes, microphones and meteorological sensors which are placed at the aerodrome, enabling the controller to hear sounds, and observe weather as they would at the aerodrome. Light controls enable the controller to adjust the airfield lighting, including a light gun, in the event of radio failures. Controllers also have the ability to zoom in, on specific areas, which has a similar effect as using binoculars.
All of these functions combined, develop the situational awareness of the controller, and provide them with the tools to control an airfield from a remote location.
Saab, the company developing the remote towers, is implementing the first two, this year, in Northern Sweden. This follows the successful completion of a demo project, in 2009.
The following is a list of Saab's requirements for the remote control towers, and their airport locations.
- Remote Airport
• High resolution digital cameras
• Pan-Tilt camera with zoom capabilities, PTZ
• Video encoding
• Signal light gun
• Metrological sensors
• Integrated tower systems (lights, navigational aids, distress alarms etc.)
- Remote Tower Centre
• Up to 360 degrees of live LCD or projected airfield image
• Airfield stereo sound
• Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera and signal light gun controls
• Automatic Weather Observation system, AWOS
• Integrated tower systems control
• Remote Control Monitoring system, RCMS (Airport lights, ILS, NDB, VOR, VHF/UHF, Communication)
• Flight Data Processing system, FDP
• Radar Data Processing and Display system, RDP
• Electronic Flight Progress Strip system, e-Strip
• Record and Replay System for video, audio and flight information
• System redundancy
The above requirements outline high demands for each tower and airport. This is required to reduce the possibility of any error or failure in the system, as well as to create a environment with high situational awareness for the controller, in order to complete their job.
There are many benefits to the development and implementation of remote control towers. The primary benefit is cost savings. This is achieved by the consolidation of smaller airports, by pooling their resources to a common location.
Remote towers are also a great option for an alternative to building new towers. For those towers that need significant repairs, replacing, or new aerodromes which require towers, remote towers provide the potential for significant cost savings, as they have low initial set up costs, and maintenance costs.
The impact of staff is also reduced by remote towers. Reduced training times and costs, combined with the shared location of other controllers, allow controllers to rate at different aerodromes. This keeps controllers stimulated and challenged at work, creating a happier work environment. It also reduces staffing costs, by allowing each aerodrome’s roster to operate more efficiently.
- Temporary Towers
Events such as Warbirds Over Wanaka, and Walsh Flying School in Matamata result in a significant increase of traffic over a short time period, usually over one to two weeks. This increase in traffic demands a need for controllers, and because these airfields have no control tower, a mobile one is required to travel the country, to ensure a air traffic control service can be provided. Remote towers would reduce the requirement for this. After the initial setup, the towers can be activated or closed as required, with no requirement to transport both a remote tower, and controllers from around the country.
- Backup Facilities
As well as being used as a primary means of Controlling in quieter or temporary towers, remote towers are a good option as a backup tower in the event of emergencies in larger towers. In the past few years, there have been multiple evacuations in Christchurch due to earthquakes. Luckily, the evacuations were temporary, and no significant damage was made to the towers. These would enable the controllers to operate a lot closer to their normal capacity compared to many ANSP's backup services implemented now.
- Other Features
The remote towers offer features that normal control towers are currently unable to provide. One of these features is image tracking. This enables the controller to sight an aircraft sooner, by showing the controller exactly where the aircraft is. This helps the controller provide a better service, often reducing the amount of separation required between aircraft, by applying visual separation sooner. It reduces the amount time a controller spends looking for an aircraft, thus increasing the amount of time they can spend on other things, possibly increasing their work capacity. Labels attached to moving objects on the screens also allows the controller to track which aircraft is which, and keep continuous sight on them, when required. This would be extremely beneficial in circuit situations, especially in bad weather as controllers are required to keep aircraft in sight. Zoom camera's and image enhancement enable the controller to view traffic that they may not have been able to in normal towers, even with the use of binoculars, once again providing the opportunity to provide a better service.
- Other uses
When ATC is not required at an aerodrome, the set up can be used for multiple other reasons, including atc at other aerodromes, training, emergency scernarios, maintenance, incident investigations, and multiple other uses.
The major downside with respect to remote towers, is the fact the controller is not at the aerodrome. If something failed, ie the video stream, or a power failure, the controller has little ability to recover from the situation, and if there is a reasonable amount of traffic, there is potential for the situation to turn catastrophic. There are also limitations in the authenticity of the data. Even with all of the technological developments of today, a simulator or video stream cannot provide the realism of the environment of actually being at an aerodrome.
The development of remote towers shows large potential for significant cost savings for ANSP’s. This, included with a significant amount of other benefits, leads us to consider the future of the aviation industry, and the inclusion of remote towers. Two remote towers are being impplemented this year in northern Sweden, and Australia are conducting a trial of remote towers in 2012. This new trial will allow AirServices to examine the possible application of remote tower technology in the Australian environment.
The outcome of the Sweden implementation and Australia trials will dictate the future of the aviation industry. There are obvious benefits to the remote towers, and it is an exciting prospect to consider the possible inclusion of remote towers, both in New Zealand, and around the world, in the future.
 Remote tower- control several airports from a single location- technical specifications/ retrieved from http://www.saabgroup.com/en/Civil-security/Air-Transportation-and-Airport-Security/Air-Traffic-Management-Solutions/Remote-Tower/Technical-specifications/ on August 19 2012
 quote by Airservices CEO Greg Russell on the 12/03/2010, taken from press release Airservices Australia teams up with LFV and Saab for remotely operated tower trials, http://newsroom.airservicesaustralia.com/channels/Technology/releases/airservices-australia-teams-up-with-lfv-and-saab-for-remotely-operated-tower-trials on 19 August 2012
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