Future Air Traffic Controllers Could Work In Virtual Towers Nowhere Near The Airport

saab sensis remote air control tower concept

Photo: Saab Sensis

Air traffic controllers have long worked far above the ground, in towers built to give them a clear view of the airport around them. Like so much of the aviation industry, that setup may fundamentally change, thanks to new technology.Saab Sensis, an air defence and air traffic control corporation, wants to separate the controllers from the airports.

The Remote Tower premise is straightforward: Cameras and sensors relay images and information from the airport to an off-site controller in just .3 seconds.

It is cost-effective. Tall structures supporting offices and human beings are replaced by what look like water towers, loaded with cameras and sensors. A single controller could efficiently manage multiple small airports, reducing the need for personnel at each one.

Saab Sensis Director of Business Development Per Ahl notes that as a remote tower can be set up relatively quickly, it could replace outdated or damaged conventional towers. It also provides a solution to line-of-sight problems posed by the construction of new terminals.

Ahl said air traffic controllers who tested the system and provided feedback “are excited by the possibilities [of] the remote tower concept.”

The biggest challenge will not be winning over potential employees, however. For understandable reasons, aviation regulations are strict, and hard to change.

To prove the Remote Tower is effective and reliable, Saab Sensis has been operating an airport in Ă„ngleholm, Sweden from a site more than 60 miles away. Other trials are set to begin in Australia and Norway later this year.

Conventional towers have controllers working several stories above the ground.

The remote tower is a simpler structure, with an array of cameras and sensors.

Each controller faces a semi-circle of screens displaying what's happening at the airport.

Their stations can be efficiently clustered together.

High resolution images include object tracking.

Sensors detect objects that should not be in the area.

The controller can inspect any area with a point tilt zoom camera.

The system automatically adjusts the brightness of the image.

So the controller sees this instead of a dark landscape.

Filters prevent sunlight from making it hard to see.

Different camera settings make sure the planes are always visible.

At all times of day.

A signal light gun provides a backup if the system is faulty.

Here's a wilder way to change air travel.

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