Transforming Air Traffic Management Through Remote Towers

The civil aviation market in India is poised to become the world’s third largest by 2020. With rapid growth in air travel within the country, pressures on air traffic control are ever increasing. Saab’s Remote Tower concept provides a solution to the extremely complex environment of Air Traffic Management.

A completely new approach to management of civil aviation, Remote Tower systems are revolutionary in nature. While the core functionality and procedures of air traffic control remains the same, the Remote Tower concept eliminates the requirement of a traditional control tower, whose prime purpose is to provide direct line-of-sight views of the whole airport area through its windows.

“Saab is redefining the future of Air Traffic Management. Currently our products and services serve 18 of the 20 busiest airports in the world, including JFK, Dublin, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Our Digital Tower Solutions represent the next revolution in air traffic control, enabling air traffic services to be provided more efficiently for any airport, from any remote location,” says Jan Widerström, Chairman and Managing Director, Saab India. In India, Saab has deployed the Advanced – Surface Movement Guidance & Control Systems (A-SMGCS) at five airports. These help to enhance situational awareness and runway safety at these growing airports.

Saab’s Remote Tower Services (RTS) system is the only certified solution meeting  required regulations. It is also a fully scalable system, equally suitable for major international airports, single regional airports or local airport clusters, and could help transform India’s aviation landscape in the coming years by supporting quick and efficient development of India’s many regional airports.

Technology Behind The Tower

Using the latest high-technology digital sensors and visual display systems, Remote Towers increase traffic capacity, and enhance safety and efficiency by improving the controllers’ situational awareness. This could act as a force multiplier for India’s regional airports, enabling multiple low-cost, no-frills airports to be controlled from regional hubs.

Since it does away with the need for conventional Air Traffic Control towers, Remote Towers can be situated anywhere convenient – at ground level, underground, even completely off the airport, maybe even tens or hundreds of kilometres away. With modern communications systems, distance is not a problem - and the space saved releases valuable airport real estate.

The primary visual information needed by the Air Traffic Control officers is provided by fixed high-definition video cameras, mounted on one or more masts. In combination, these give a complete 360° overview of the airport, irrespective of the size of the airport. Infra-red cameras provide excellent images in darkness as well as fog, and the system remains functional in the worst rainstorms or sandstorms. The fixed cameras are complemented by magnifying pan/tilt/zoom cameras, which the controller can direct to any item of interest.

In the control centre, there is a panoramic wall of TV screens that displays pictures from the cameras for the benefit of the controller. Other sensors transmit radar data, meteorological data and surface-movement information. At larger airports, separate role-based camera views can be supplied for air and ground traffic.

Development Over The Years

Saab and the Swedish Air Navigation Service Provider, LFV, have been jointly working on developing Remote Tower systems since 2005. It has been tested at Swedish airports since 2008, along with conventional systems.

In April 2015, Örnsköldsvik Airport in Sweden became the world’s first remotely managed airport in the world, as Saab’s Remote Tower came into operation. Sweden’s Sundsvall Timrå Airport followed suit in 2016, as will Linköping City Airport this year.

London City Airport and NATS have chosen Saab as the technology provider for a test installation to remotely control air traffic at London City Airport. Successful test installations have also been implemented in Australia, the USA, the Netherlands, Norway and Ireland in diverse environments and at various distances.

In March last year, Saab received the prestigious IHS Jane’s Air Traffic Control Award for delivering the first operational and approved Remote Tower in the world.