The majority of airports have an accompanying control tower ensuring the safest paths for incoming and outgoing flights. However, this isn’t always the case. Enter the Scandinavian Mountains Airport in Sweden. It’s among the latest of several airports globally that are shifting to remote air traffic management technology.
Instead of control operators being at the airport, they’ll be in an entirely separate region around 300km (186 miles) away. The idea is thought to be better for safety as well as expenses, and it is restructuring the design and functionality behind smaller airports worldwide.
Professor R. John Hansman, aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, says, “The idea has been around for a while”.
Saab, the aerospace and defence company from Sweden, has been experimenting with remote air traffic control for roughly 10 years, and has run tests in several locations around the world including the United States and Australia.
The benefit of virtual towers
Cameras and sensors at the Scandinavian Mountains Airport will send relative info to a control station in Sundsvall, central Sweden. HD monitors will provide the control operators with a full view of the area, more so than what a conventional control tower could provide. Augmented reality will also offer a collection of data to create a more detailed picture of the situation at the airport, making it easier to assess the circumstances at night or in bad weather conditions.
“Virtual towers in principle work like any person who works remotely using technology, whether it is education, software, meetings and so on,” said Professor David Gillen, University of British Columbia. “We learned a long time ago you do not have to be ‘in the office’ all the time; if surgeons can perform an operation via video, surely we can inform an aircraft what it should do for a safe landing or departure.”
The Scandinavian Mountains Airport set to open in two months’ time will be the entry point for many travelling to Scandinavia’s biggest alpine ski area.
“Virtual towers are coming to the U.S as part of the NextGen modernization program,” explains Gillen. “They are in place in Scandinavia due to cost, the number of small remote airports, and low traffic volumes. This is not a technology for LaGuardia, O’Hare, or Heathrow! It allows a single team to operate a number of remote airports and, in principle, could optimize an airport system.”