“Remote tower” ATC systems advanced by Saab have passed site acceptance testing in Norway and Sweden, paving the way for broader acceptance of the technology at small and regional airports that have no manned tower or a tower that is temporarily staffed during the day.
In April, Saab announced that the remote tower (r-TWR) system being tested for Norwegian air navigation service provider (ANSP) Avinor passed site acceptance at the Værøy Island Heliport. Earlier this year, Saab said the r-TWR system developed for LFV, Sweden’s ANSP, passed site acceptance at Sundsvall and Örnsköldsvik airports, an industry first. The system then entered formal certification testing; commissioning by Sweden’s transport authority is expected this summer.
The r-TWR concept combines the ATC functions of multiple small airports at one centrally located facility, or remote tower center (RTC). The system links, in real time, cameras and sensors installed at the airports and feeds the information to controllers at the RTC, where it is streamed live on multiple LCD displays. The system can integrate camera views, radar data and wind and weather information in a 360-degree “virtual” display of an airport corresponding to a pilot’s head-up display.
“Remote towers hold great potential for safe, cost-effective delivery of air traffic services to new locations and as a replacement for outdated facilities,” said Ken Kaminski, Saab ATM general manager. “It also opens the opportunity to merge multiple tower operations into one center for more efficient services.”
The Værøy heliport is served by just four scheduled flights per day. Saab’s r-TWR system provides aerodrome flight information service (AFIS) officers at the Bodø RTC with high-resolution video of the daily helicopter operations. The AFIS officers control all sensors and airfield lighting. Saab said it is also testing an infrared camera at Værøy for managing operations at night and in bad weather. The r-TWR operation is serving the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) effort to validate AFIS service.
In Sweden, Saab and LFV established an RTC at Sundsvall to manage operations at Sundsvall Härnösand and Örnsköldsvik airports. Sundsvall and Örnsköldsvik, both located along Sweden’s Baltic coast, lie about 78 miles (125 kilometers) apart. Saab first demonstrated the r-TWR system at Ängelholm Airport, a former military base, in2009. Pia Johansson, LFV marketing manager, said the ANSP is “compiling new methods and regulatory frameworks for the air traffic controllers who work with LFV remote tower services.”
Saab is also deploying a r-TWR system for Airservices Australia at Alice Springs Airport in central Australia, using ATC provided from a remote tower center in Adelaide, about 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) away. Airservices Australia has been studying the technology since 2010. The ANSP is evaluating its use in the remote and harsh conditions of the country’s interior.
The technology “is really catching on,” Marc Viggiano, president and CEO of the company’s U.S. arm, Saab Sensis, told AIN. “The amount of interest we’re getting in that is significant. The business case is pretty powerful for ANSPs to be able to provide service at sites around the clock where it was not economically viable to do that.”
Remote tower installations can expand ATC coverage at airports that have manned towers only during the day or during high traffic periods, Viggiano said. Thus far in the company’s experience, controllers have not opposed r-TWR technology for potentially eliminating their jobs. “We see controllers really embracing the technology,” he said. “They learn new ways of operating. It’s not like we’re displacing somebody from a job. There’s still a controller there; he just doesn’t necessarily have to be up in a tower above the Arctic Circle doing the work.”