The prospect of an ATC facility without human air traffic controllers is progressing well, according to Dr. Dave Byers, a pioneer in the technology that would enable this development.
His company, Quadrex Aviation, won a research grant last year from the town of Beckley W.Va., to prove whether a computer system using a low-cost primary radar system could safely separate airplanes at a small airport. Byers’s “virtual tower” synthetic air traffic advisory system (Satas) can track both arriving and departing aircraft and also warn pilots of animals and vehicles on or near the runways at uncontrolled airports. A potential runway conflict will trigger an audio warning broadcast on a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) or unicom frequency pilots are expected to monitor both inbound and outbound. The “virtual tower” will not, however, offer a landing clearance as might be expected from human air traffic controllers.
The success of the test so far bodes well for additional research and a potential prototyping that might someday be offered for sale to airports struggling to find the funds each year to maintain a traditional ATC tower. Byers told AIN he’s working to secure necessary research funding to build a prototype.