TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN AVIATION
One of the most symbolic images at any airport is the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, where, from a lofty vantage point, Air Traffic Controllers monitor flights taking off, landing and taxiing to and from terminals. Increasingly, though, control towers will be shuttered as the airports switch to using remote centres to monitor flights. These centres will be housed in ordinary low-rise buildings, some of which may be hundreds of kilometres away. The centres will receive live video feed from cameras positioned around the airfield to create a virtual image of the airport to be displayed on large screens positioned around the controllers’ desks.
FACTORS AND SAFETY
As the air traffic flow is growing swiftly, there is an increased requirement of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPS) to reduce the operating costs of Air Navigation Services, especially for medium and small airports by utilising new technology. Air Navigation Services constitute a fixed cost, which is hard to recover at airports which have relatively less air traffic movements. A fully equipped and operational control tower at small airports servicing only a handful of take-offs and landings per day can be an economic burden, which may overstretch the financial capabilities of ANSPS at low-traffic airports.
The Remote Control Tower (RCT) is a possible solution for such airports for improving their profitability, offering longer opening hours, or preventing closedowns.
The Remote Control Tower is a new concept where the Air Traffic Service (ATS) at an airport is performed somewhere else other than in the local control tower by utilising technology. RCT replaces the onsite view of the airport control tower with a visualisation system located at a remote site by using high-resolution visual/infrared cameras, optimised for wide-range coverage by providing a video presentation that uses object detection and alerting functions together with facilitating information enhancement. Operating a tower remotely opens a wide-range of synergies since it allows co-location of several towers to one Remote Tower Centre (RTC), where several airports are controlled centrally by the same staff – providing better utilisation of resources.
The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme which has pioneered the technology of the RCT, uses the term ‘Remote Virtual Tower’ for a remote control tower and defines it as follows.
A Remote Virtual Tower is where Air Traffic Services (ATS) are remotely provided through direct visual capture and visual reproduction (e.g. with cameras). The ATS is provided using a Remote Tower Module (RTM), which includes operator workstation(s), ATM systems and display solutions.
A ‘remote tower module’ is the term for the complete module, including both the Controller Working Positions (CWPS) and the visual reproduction display screens.
A Remote Tower Centre is a building where the ATS is located to serve one or more airports. It usually includes several RTMS. There are three different operational types of remote control tower:
Single remote control tower Multiple remote control tower Contingency remote control tower
THE PATH AHEAD
As in most operations related to aviation, remote towers would have multiple backup systems, including dual power supplies and additional routes for data networks. Even from afar, the controllers would be able to operate by remote controlling the signal lamps which are used at airports to communicate with pilots in the event of a radio failure.
Further, Target Tracking is not the only feature to emerge from the Remote Tower concept with the potential to improve safety. Some of the other technologies it embraces might be integrated into safety net solutions or used in daily operations as support tools and safety enhancers in their own right. With the recent implementation of the Remote Tower and other concepts by some of the Air Navigation Service providers, innovation and change are in the air. Now is the time to capitalise on this to fuel further cutting-edge developments, not forgetting to explore all avenues for their safety potential.
Though currently, there is lack of global
regulation from ICAO, the Air Navigation Services providers, the world over, are testing the technology and are in the process of implementing and testing the concept of operations. The first remotely controlled airport in the world has been in operation since April 2015, at the Ornskoldsvik Airport in Sweden, which has been approved by the regulator according to the same regulations as the conventional air traffic control.
Considering the cost-benefit of the remote ATC tower it is important to consider the implementation of the concept and the technology in India. As a pilot project and for testing its applicability, the RCT concept is being considered by the Airports Authority of India for controlling the air traffic at one of the operational airports from another airport. A Request for Proposal [RFP] for the same has been floated. Subsequently, the Remote Tower technology can also be tested for operating as an alternate ATC Tower in the case of any contingency.
ATC Work Station, Control Tower
Remote Air Traffic Control components (Image Courtesy : M/s Frequentis)
New ATC Complex, IGI Airport, Delhi