Airports to switch to virtual control towers

A pioneering new digital air traffic control system will enhance safety and improve resilience, setting a new standard for the global aviation industry. Efficiency and safety are the driving forces behind the use of remote towers.

Remote towers are planned in a number of countries. Remote tower solutions provide a smarter approach to air traffic control by digitising and integrating airport functions.

The state-of-the-art technology from Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, which is tried and tested and already in use at Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden, offers several advantages for efficient air traffic management.

In 2019 NATS, Britain’s air-traffic management company, will replace the control tower at London City Airport with a remote service operating at NATS’s air-traffic control centre 145 km away. Saab has been testing the idea in several places outside Sweden. One is Australia, where video from the airport at Alice Springs, in the middle of the country, has been transmitted to air-traffic controllers in Adelaide, 1,500 km away on the south coast.

London City Airport has announced it is to become the first UK airport to build and operate a digital air traffic control tower, with a multi-million pound investment in the technology.

By introducing a completely digitalized panoramic view, a new world of aerodrome control emerges. Saab and the Swedish Air Navigation Service Provider, LFV, have successfully collaborated to put world’s first Remote Tower into operation.

These remote control towers receive a live video feed from cameras positioned around an airfield. The images are stitched together by computer and displayed on screens to create a virtual view of the runways and taxiways being monitored. In some cases the screens surround the air-traffic controllers, creating a 360° image. Separate screens can be used to display different airfields, because some remote towers will control flights in and out of a number of airports.

Efficiency and safety are the driving forces behind the use of remote towers. They offer the prospect of substantial savings as airports no longer need to build and maintain expensive tall structures. Operating costs should also fall, if air-traffic controllers are shared between a number of airports. Such savings should particularly help little-used airfields, which would pay for control-tower services only when needed. In Norway’s case, the overall cost of air-traffic services at the airports involved is expected fall by 30-40 per cent. That means lower fees for airlines and cheaper fares for passengers. 

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