Air traffic management is finally getting a jump into new technology as multiple airports are set to use remote air traffic control. Remote air traffic control centers use 360° cameras and other technologies to allow controllers to track aircraft from other airport buildings or at offsite locations. Many feel that remote stations are a great investment, especially when it comes to costs and sustainability.
The main goal of air traffic control is ensuring safe and efficient aviation operations by coordinating aircraft movement, minimizing delays, and avoidance of bad weather. The FAA oversees air traffic control in the US. Part of this system includes the air traffic control towers (ATCT) that are located at airports.
Approximately 500 airports in the US have an air traffic control tower. These are predominately larger airports with a high rate of commercial flights, such as Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport. The FAA estimates that over 17,000 US airports are nontowered. A nontowered airport does not have an air traffic control tower. Many regional or general aviation airports are nontowered. Some airports have only operate a tower during daylight hours and are considered to be nontowered at night.
Aircraft control towers are expensive to build, maintain, and staff. An estimated cost to build a tower in 2017 is $12.4 million USD. Smaller airports are unable to make the investment.
Staff that are at a traditional tower may have difficulty viewing airport operations due to weather conditions or situations. Rain, snow, fog, reflections, and night darkness impact clear visibility. Remote air traffic control tower cameras allow for easier detection of possible issues. The cameras will automatically adjust to create clearer imagery.
The technology in the towers can also detect issues that aren’t visible from the human eye. Remote tower provider Saab explains that they use advanced image processing to detect potential safety hazards, such as tools left on the runway. Target tracking can also highlight oncoming aircraft, enabling better emphasis on situations a controller may not yet be aware of or able to see.
The first remote tower was installed at the Ornskoldsvik Airport in Sweden in 2013. After an year and a half of testing, operations commenced in the spring of 2015. London City Airport began construction of the remote tower in May of 2017. The Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia tested remote air traffic technology over the summer of 2017. The next US site selected for testing is the Northern Colorado Regional Airport. In recent news, India is showing interest in remote tower adoption.
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