In October of 2014, Saab, the Virginia SATSLab, Inc. (VSATS), and the Leesburg Executive Airport in Leesburg, Virginia, officially formed a partnership to demonstrate and evaluate Saab's remote tower technologies for use at the Leesburg Executive Airport. The FAA, the Virginia Department of Aviation and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) are serving in advisory roles for the program. In addition, the FAA and NATCA are providing air traffic controllers for the demonstration to test the system and collect data. Saab's goal for the demonstration program is to achieve FAA approval, per their Safety Management System (SMS) requirements, to operate a remote tower as a non-federal system in non-radar, Class D airspace.
Saab has pioneered the development of remote tower technologies in cooperation with air traffic controllers and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) around the world. Its Remote Tower System is an integrated package of subsystems which facilitates a range of conventional air traffic services. High-definition images and all relevant airport systems are transferred via a data network to an integrated controller working position at the Remote Tower Center (RTC). A comprehensive suite of image enhancement tools and state-of-the-art video compression provides optimal image resolution while minimizing bandwidth usage.
Saab's demonstration at Leesburg Executive Airport is the launch of our remote tower system in the United States. Remote towers may benefit busy U.S. airports like Leesburg that do not currently have an air traffic control tower (ATCT) by increasing efficiency and safety at a lower cost than constructing a new "brick and mortar" tower.
"We are excited to bring Saab's Remote Tower System to the United States," said Mike Gerry, Head of Saab's Air Traffic Management Product Area. "The system has received approval in Sweden and has been deployed in many other locations around the world. We look forward to demonstrating its potential benefits to the U.S. National Airspace System."
The demonstration at Leesburg began in August of 2015, and will carry through mid-2016. For the initial phase of the project (which is currently underway), air traffic controllers from across the United States are testing the system by simulating working traffic. The airport's operations will not be impacted throughout this period, as the controllers are monitoring traffic activity in passive mode.
During the project's active phase in 2016, pilots using the airport will begin following Class D airspace procedures. FAA-certified control tower operators (CTOs) employed by RVA, Inc. will provide positive control from the RTC. Pilots will receive take-off, landing and taxiing clearances from the CTOs, with additional CTOs providing a safety net from a mobile ATCT located on-airport.
At the end of the project, the airspace will revert to previous uncontrolled procedures, and both tower systems will be taken out of service. The FAA will review data collected by the air traffic controllers and CTOs during both project phases – and ultimately determine if Saab's Remote Tower System is safe for non-federal, non-radar usage.
According to Dave Olster, System Engineering Lead with Saab Sensis Corporation, the demonstration is going very well thus far. "We have had very good support from the FAA," he said on September 17. "The participating controllers have been engaged and enthusiastic, and are providing honest and valuable feedback."
"We are optimistic about the program's outcome," added Mr. Gerry. "With the system efficiency, safety and cost-effectiveness, we feel confident that Saab's Remote Tower System can provide an invaluable service to U.S. airports."