What is an airport tower controller

Remote Tower Control - remote monitoring of flight operations

Tower controllers always have a view of flight movements on the apron, runways and on arrival and departure through large panoramic windows. However, direct visual contact is increasingly being replaced by technology, and the airport control service no longer even requires pilots to be on site. Remote Tower Control, the remote monitoring of airports by camera, is one of the trends in the air traffic management industry - and Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) is also planning to use it to control regional airports. Saarbrücken Airport should make the start.

In June 2015 Saarbrücken was equipped with the remote tower technology "smartVISION", which was developed by the Austrian system supplier Frequentis and Rheinmetall Defense Electronics. "We are currently in the system's validation phase," says DFS press officer Nanda Geelvink. The focus is on the camera system and the external viewer set. Regular operations will only start in 2017 when all requirements and safety standards have been met. By then, a Remote Tower Center (RTC) will be built in the DFS Tower branch at Leipzig Airport, around 450 kilometers away, from which controllers will monitor operations in Saarbrücken.

The Frequentis system consists of a panorama camera network with color video cameras and a rotating 360 ° infrared camera for bad weather and night vision. “The special thing about these cameras is that they are equipped with special weather protection systems and cleaning concepts,” explains Thomas Fränzl, Business Development Tower Automation Systems at Frequentis. Using pan-tilt zoom cameras, the pilots can bring pictures closer and change the angle of view. Redundant visual cameras and an infrared camera are used to check the detail view. "The pilot has a seamless 180-degree real-time panorama image - visual and infrared - in front of him, which is displayed on two rows of three high-resolution 4k monitors each," says Fränzl.

The user interface in front of the controller is used to control the cameras; a 360-degree image of the airport is also displayed there for a better overview. All available air traffic control systems such as radar, flight data, meteorology and voice communication can be integrated into the workplace. As with a head-up display, important data, such as the position display of ground vehicles and aircraft as well as weather information, can be displayed directly on the panorama image - an advantage over conventional control towers. In the past three years, Frequentis has already carried out tests at Dresden Airport and the Hinterstoisser Air Base in Zeltweg, Austria. The experience gained in this way led, among other things, to improvements in operating concepts and workplace design.

While tests are still being carried out in Saarbrücken, in Sweden Örnsköldsvik Airport, the world's first remotely monitored airport, has been in live operation for almost a year. He has been looked after by RTC in Sundsvall, around 160 kilometers away, since April 21, 2015. The Swedish air traffic control company LFV relies on Saab technology. Attached to a mast at Örnsköldsvik Airport, 14 HD cameras and a pan-tilt zoom camera provide a panoramic view of a monitor wall arranged in a semicircle in front of the pilots. "At larger airports, separate role-based camera views can be used for air and ground traffic," explains Anders Carp, Head of Traffic Management at Saab.

Erik Bäckman, who runs RTC Sundsvall, is satisfied with the experience from the operation so far. “The system is reliable and works perfectly. We can offer the same service from the RTC as from the stand-alone tower at the airport, ”he says. There are also no restrictions on the number of flight movements in airports with remote monitoring. In addition to Örnsköldsvik, RTC Sundsvall will soon look after the local tower of Sundsvall Airport and, from 2017, City Airport Linköping.

In Germany, after regular operations have started in Saarbrücken, the remote tower technology is also to be used at Erfurt and Dresden airports. When exactly, the DFS does not want to provide any information yet. A future expansion of remote monitoring to the airports in Bremen, Münster and Osnabrück is conceivable. “But we have not yet planned any larger airports,” says Nanda Geelvink.

DFS expects the introduction of the RTC solution based on thermal infrared camera technology to not only provide an advantage in terms of security. "In the long term, more efficiency in the provision of airfield control services and the associated cost savings can be expected," says Klaus-Dieter Scheuerle, Chairman of the DFS Management Board. According to DFS, jobs should not be cut through the introduction of the new technology. In the future, however, pilots will be trained for more than one airport and can therefore be deployed more flexibly. This should also help to maintain the level of performance better. According to the DFS, this is often a challenge, especially for pilots at small and medium-sized airports with little traffic.

Other airports planning Remote Twoer Control

IrelandCork and ShannonDublinSaab
Norway15 airports not yet namedBodøKongsberg Defense
HungaryBudapest International Airporton siteINDRA Navia AS,
SeaRidge Technologies
United StatesLeesburg
Executive Airport (Virginia)
on siteSaab, Virginia SATSLab
AustraliaAlice SpringsAdelaide

FLUG REVUE issue 03/2016