Control Towers' Days Might Be Numbered

 - July 13, 2017, 4:52 PM

Digital control towers, including “remote” towers, are on the verge of transforming the world of air traffic management, offering significant operational, safety and efficiency benefits over the current system, proponents say.

Searidge Technologies co-founder and CTO Alex Sauriol asserts there is no longer any need for a physical tower as high-definition, day and night, thermal and pan-tilt-zoom cameras can feed images to air traffic controllers, presenting them with a panoramic view of the airfield wherever they are. This image can then be augmented and enhanced with everything from radar feeds and flight information to the location of closed taxiways, significantly improving the situational awareness of controllers.

UK Air navigation service provider NATS has been researching remote towers for a few years. More recently NATS Services took a stake in Searidge Technologies, a key player in this emerging technology. Searidge claims to be the first company to have an operational video system in an ATC tower and now has the technology at 30 sites in 16 countries. Sauriol, along with NATS head of customer solutions Andy Taylor and NATS chief architect Simon Daykins, explained the technology and addressed concerns about it during a recent webinar.

Taylor pointed out that “towers don’t need to be remote to be digitized” and emphasized that the purpose of the technology is to provide controllers with data and tools to analyze the airport environment. Artificial intelligence will play a vital part in the future by allowing better decision making. “And it allows ANSPs to be much more dynamic in responding to fluctuations in demand,” said Sauriol, noting that “with AI you are better able to anticipate a situation before it happens—such as a runway incursion—and improve safety.” 

It also plays well into how things are going with collaborative decision making [at airports],” said Taylor. “And it’s common centralized investment from which all airports can benefit, and with common cybersecurity.”

July 2017
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