'Remote Tower' ATC Systems Planned in Germany, Ireland

 - June 2, 2015, 11:24 AM
A controller mans a remote tower working position, which provides a real-time display of a distant airport surface. (Photo: Frequentis)

Air navigation service providers (Ansps) announced contracts to install “remote tower” systems at airports in Germany and Ireland, signaling the spread of the technology in Europe. Remote towers enable controllers to manage airports from separate, off-site facilities.

On June 2, German Ansp DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung said it signed a contract with supplier Frequentis, of Vienna, Austria, to install remote tower technology at Saarbrücken Airport in southwestern Germany near its border with France. DFS plans to provide ATC services at the medium-sized airport from a remote facility some 350 miles away in Leipzig beginning in 2017, making Saarbrücken “the first German airport under remote control.” Control of airports at Erfurt and Dresden will follow.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) on the same day announced a contract with Sweden’s Saab to install a remote tower center at Dublin Airport. Under a demonstration that is being co-funded by the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) Joint Undertaking, the Dublin center will operate remote-tower technology at Shannon and Cork airports “on a number of occasions” through 2016.

A remote tower system combines the ATC functions of one or more small airports at a remote tower center. Cameras and sensors installed at the airports feed imagery and data to the center, where the information is streamed live to controllers on LCD displays.

In April, Sweden’s LFV laid claim to being the world’s first air navigation services provider to manage an airport remotely when it started remote tower services using Saab technology at Örnsköldsvik Airport. Takeoffs and landings at the regional airport were controlled from a remote tower center in Sundsvall, Sweden, about 78 miles away.

Six airlines serve Saarbrücken Airport: Air Berlin, Freebird, Germania, Luxair, SunExpress and TUIfly. The airport reports handling 12,324 scheduled, charter and non-commercial aircraft movements in 2012, and 407,650 total passengers in 2013.

According to DFS, the remote tower system will provide Leipzig controllers with an enhanced view of the airfield and the terminal area, including during adverse weather with the addition of an advanced thermal infrared camera. “Our remote tower concept is based on a unique technological and operational solution. The benefits promise to be compelling,” stated Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, DFS chairman and CEO. “In the long run, efficiency will be improved and costs reduced. Plus, the proficiency and know-how of air traffic controllers can more easily be maintained, which sometimes represents a challenge at small and medium-sized airports with low traffic volumes.”

The IAA said its strategy of implementing air traffic management innovations includes using remote tower systems for low-density operations. “Remote tower operations are part of the future and it is something the IAA is very keen to exploit,” said Peter Kearney, IAA’s director of ATM operations and strategy. “Through this work with Sesar and Saab we will lead a further evolution of remote tower technologies in Europe, paving the way for permanent deployment of remote tower solutions.”