As air traffic grows at a frantic pace, India has to deal with the challenges posed by ageing air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure and the need to train more air traffic controllers (ATCOs). Progress is being made, however, despite a very limited budget. For example, Saab (Chalets A278, Static D146)–the first company to introduce the remote tower having spent five years developing and demonstrating them globally–is in discussions with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to set up a pilot remote tower (r-TWR) by 2015.
Saab’s acquisition of U.S Sensis and HITT of the Netherlands, gave it a market advantage in India as both companies are associated with major programs, including ground movement control systems at Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata airports. The amalgamation of the companies is now being marketed by Saab India Technologies, and they are looking to build on each other’s strengths in the domain of ATM through a direct India presence.
Saab’s discussions on remote towers are concentrated primarily on tier 2 and 3 cities in India that have few movements (2 to 50 per day) and for remote centers for clusters of two to five airports. The long-term benefits of this concept include reduced costs relating to construction and maintenance of airport control towers, as well as more efficient staffing of air traffic services (ATS), said Saab.
“The planned growth of the Indian aviation sector needs to ensure that the current costs do not escalate,” said Michael Sahlberg, marketing director for India, C4I solutions. “If you build concrete towers, it will become more expensive; remote towers trim operational costs and ensure better utilization of the workforce that India has a shortage of,” he added.
Mindsets need to change the world over, said Sahlberg. While the remote tower is fully integrated with existing systems, it can unnerve controllers initially not to be sitting high up with a view of the airport. “The father is the buyer, while kids will operate the system,” said Sahlberg. “The technology gap is huge. The issue is mostly for the air navigation service providers(ANSP) to convince themselves [that this is the right option].”
Also, the price justifies the buy: a remote tower costs approximately €2 million ($1.5 million) compared to a concrete tower that includes construction plus hardware costs.
Technology within the r-TWR is based on the incorporation of different available surveillance sources such as A-SMGCS (advanced surface movement guidance and control system), e-strip, AMAN (arrival manager), DMAN (departure manager) and RDP (radar display). “In addition to this, a new element of camera surveillance is implemented, vastly enhancing an ATCO’s situational awareness,” said Sahlberg.
The remote airport system includes high-resolution digital cameras, pan-tilt camera with zoom capabilities, video encoding, microphones, signal light gun meteorological sensors and integrated tower systems (lights, navigational aids and distress alarms).
The only constraint in India is the lack of a fiber-optic communication infrastructure. “But with 4G to be introduced, India is getting there,” Sahlberg said.
Asian skies are also on the radar of the Saab Group. Talks continue with China, which shares with India issues related to rapid growth. “Like India, China is conscious of reducing costs,” said Sahlberg. In addition, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Open Skiesagreement to be fully implemented in 2015, may be an opportunity to tap where “services could be sold to neighboring friendly countries,” adds Sahlberg.
Presently, the company has a pilot program for Adelaide Airport with a remote center that controls Alice Springs Airport 1,500 km away. The trials are to start in the third quarter this year. Sundsvall and Örnsköldvik airports in Sweden will become operational by the end of September, while in Norway, trials at Bodö are ongoing, as is certification at Vaeroe and Roest airports.