Remote air traffic control transforming the business

The Swedish Air Navigation Service Provider (LFV) and Saab were the first in the world to put remote air traffic control towers into operation. After ten years’ development work this innovative system now enters the UK, where a demo suite will be installed at the Swanwick Control Centre.

Remote air traffic control systems are supplied by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, which was formed in September 2016 and is jointly owned by Saab and LFV. But this is only part of the offering.

“By combining LFV’s unique operational experience with Saab’s world class technology solutions we can drive the whole process forward from planning to commissioning remote air traffic control. We offer smart digital solutions so that data can be used in several locations to streamline traffic flows around an airport, both in the air and on the ground,” says Johan Klintberg, CEO of Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions.

There has been great interest in the technology throughout the world with Sweden pioneering with two remotely controlled airports already in operation. Now Saab has been contracted by NATS, UK´s leading provider of air traffic control to install a remote tower demonstrator suite at its Swanwick Control Centre.

In addition to this, successful test installations have previously been set up in Australia, the USA, the Netherlands, Norway and Ireland. The system has to operate regardless of the weather conditions and climate, so experience from tough operating environments is important for further development of the technology. For example, in Australia images were sent from the airport in Alice Springs in the middle of the country to air traffic controllers in Adelaide on the south coast, 1,500 kilometres away.

The driving forces behind the interest in the new technology can vary. For disproportionately expensive airports in sparsely populated areas there is a potential for reducing costs by centralising air traffic controllers and combining resources in one place. Large airports can benefit from remote air traffic control by guaranteeing the promised traffic capacity effectively and reliably even if the existing control tower is eliminated. At Schiphol, the large airport in Amsterdam, a camera system has been installed to monitor a runway which is hidden and cannot be seen from the air traffic control tower.

“Many airports have an infrastructure which dates from the 1950s and it’s time it was replaced. With efficient remote control technology and digital air traffic control services the need for traditional tower buildings will be reduced. It’s much cheaper to erect camera systems than to build new towers,” Klintberg comments.

Saab´s Digital Tower Solutions represents the business transformation in air traffic control, which will open up new opportunities to existing and new stakeholders just by making data available. Just imagine if all stakeholders at an airport have the same information available at the same time!

Digital air traffic solutions is a break-through in air traffic services and will transform the business with greater flexibility, enhanced security and reduced costs with new business models supporting the stakeholders.   

This is how Remote Tower works

Cameras and sensors are located at the airports. Everything they record is sent digitally to an air traffic control centre and is projected onto a 360-degree view. The data traffic can take several routes to ensure that the data arrives even if an interruption occurs.

Image monitoring is combined with other systems which the air traffic controllers use to manage the traffic, such as radar display, navigation aids and information about flight plans and weather conditions.

The remote air traffic control system complies with same existing rules and regulations as for conventional towers. But the technology allows one to further enhance safety; here are a few examples:

  • Cameras can provide better night vision.
  • Advanced image processing can detect dangers or obstacles such as tools left on the runway.
  • Target tracking technology – tracking via radar and camera – can automatically detect and highlight incoming aircraft so that it is easier for the air traffic controller to monitor them on the screen.
  • Information overlaid on the screen can display everything from the weather and visibility conditions to the identity of aircraft and ground vehicles.