The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that air traffic in the Asia Pacific region will triple by 2030. With this anticipated growth in air traffic, the aviation industry faces many challenges. Many key airports in the Asia Pacific region are already operating at near full capacity with airlines having to manage a lack of timely information for long-haul flights and interacting with an air traffic control community where capabilities vary widely.
The Civil Air Navigation Service Organization (CANSO) points out that the Asia Pacific region is probably the world’s most diverse in terms of types of air navigation service providers (ANSPs), technical challenges, traffic management and capacity issues, in addition to cultural and political differences within the region.
To manage all this, Asia Pacific has to deal with the challenges posed by ageing air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure and the need to train more air traffic controllers (ATCOs). The operational costs are phenomenal and retaining skilled air traffic controllers a nightmare. Remotely operated air traffic control systems is what airports in Asia Pacific need in order to stay competitive and to reduce cost.
You must have heard of unmanned vehicles and unmanned planes. Now it is time for unmanned air traffic control systems. With the advent of the new technology developed by Saab, known as Remote Tower, traditional air traffic management could go through a sea of changes in future. Remote Tower can place human air traffic controllers miles away from the airfield to consolidate operations and would be able to assist traffic management in Asia Pacific region.
“Two Senior Thai Delegations visited Sweden recently to witness Saab’s Remote Tower in action and to evaluate the potential of bringing this technology to Thailand for use in several Low traffic volume Airports currently manned by Air Traffic Controllers. Their strategy is to integrate several remote Towers at these Airports and perform the Air Traffic Control from a Central Location such as Bangkok or Hat Yai”, says Mike Wakefield, Regional Business Development Director for Air Traffic Systems, Saab Asia Pacific.
The Swedish Transport Agency has now given Swedish air navigation service provider, LFV, clearance to handle all critical flight safety aspects at Örnsköldsvik Airport. As the Remote Tower is commissioned, Sundsvall Remote Tower Centre (RTC) will come into operation as of Q4 2014. In what is being considered a pioneering innovation, the airport in Örnsköldsvik will be the first in the world to be remotely controlled. Air traffic controllers at Sundsvall RTC will remotely control take-offs and landings at a distance of 100 km.
“Saab for long has had experience in air traffic management. In addition to this, its strength also lies in working with advanced sensors and system integration. The Saab Remote Tower combines all these experiences and offers a unique solution for air traffic management. Remote Tower makes it possible to have a network of airports operated from one location and we can see a great deal of interest from many parts of the world. I look forward to seeing what Saab's technology can do for travellers," says Håkan Buskhe, President and CEO of Saab.
The Remote Tower product suite includes high definition and pan-tilt-zoom cameras, surveillance and meteorological sensors, microphones, signal light guns and other devices for deployment at the airport. Data from these sensors are sent to a Remote Tower Center(RTC) to be displayed in real time. A controller at the RTC has the tools, in addition to live video, to operate the airport in a similar manner as he or she would in a traditional Air Traffic Control Tower.
An obvious concern that may arise is what happens in the case of an equipment failure, since there won't be "eyes" on the ground. In such a scenario, the cameras of the Remote Tower would cover for each other in case one fails, and the procedures for an "unavailable system" are same as other air control procedures for dealing with an inadvertent problem.
Saab has worked in close partnership with Swedish air navigation service provider, LFV, to develop this technology and meet air traffic controllers' operational needs. Not only does this technology offer to replace traditional towers at low traffic airports, it also has the potential to expand the capabilities of an existing airport. The technology also helps to improve safety and lower costs.