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World's first remote air traffic control tower to open in Sweden

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June 29, 2014

Saab's remote aircraft tower places human air controllers miles away from the airfield to ...

Saab's remote aircraft tower places human air controllers miles away from the airfield to consolidate operations (Photo: Saab)

In a world first, air traffic controllers armed with a suite of high-tech video and sensor equipment have been authorized to direct flights over 100 km (61 mi) away at an airport in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. The technology, developed by Saab, offers alternatives to consolidate smaller airfields with smaller budgets under one control, and provides options for training, crisis situations, and tower maintenance or refurbishing.

Designed to meet the current needs of airport control, but scale in the future, the Saab Remote Tower System (RTS) has two components. First, the airstrip itself is installed with a tall, repositionable bank of high-res cameras, microphones, signal light guns and meterological sensors.

All that information is sent to the Remote Tower Center (RTC), where human operators direct air traffic as they might traditionally, but over a great distance from the airfield. The RTC can also be designed to resemble more of a high-tech media room, with a 360 degree LCD or projected image live from the airfield, instead of 360 degrees of windows.

The Swedish RTC has been approved to direct air traffic for two remote airports in Sweden, with full operation expected to begin in autumn this year. Theoretically the system allows smaller airports to upgrade their towers and by efficiently grouping multiple airfields together in one remote control center, airfields can avoid limiting flights or closing completely.

Australia and Norway are also in the process of testing the Saab system, with Norway slated to begin use soon. The Landvetter Airport in Sweden, the second largest in the country, has begun testing the system for something slightly different – in the case of an emergency, a remote tower could provide contingency operations, avoiding a forced closure or reduced capacity of the airport.

An obvious concern might be what happens in the case of an equipment failure, since there won't be "eyes" on the ground. Saab says its cameras are being able to cover for each other in case one fails, and that the procedures for an "unavailable system" are no different than other air control procedures for dealing with an inadvertent problem.

Source: Saab

About the Author
Heidi Hoopes Heidi measures her life with the motley things she's done in the name of scientific exploration. While formally educated in biology and chemistry, informally she learns from adventures and hobbies with her family. Her simple pleasures in life are finding turtles while jogging and obsessively winnowing through her genetic data.   All articles by Heidi Hoopes
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11 Comments

I can't see any reason it can't work. Still it is a screwy idea.

Slowburn
30th June, 2014 @ 01:38 am PDT

The camera systems must be fool proof, based on current traffic cameras, that can easily become foiled by rain, ice, & snow, not to mention spider webs, birds etc....

What is the real reason we have towers?..........to watch.? Competent humans can respond in the event of catastrophic failure of systems.

Yes humans make mistakes, Oh sorry I thought I was looking at the other airport.

Local conditions can change quickly, and cameras must be directed and aimed at all possible conditions, without lag time. Hence the term in the "blink of an eye"

Bob Flint
30th June, 2014 @ 09:52 am PDT

Tradition stifles Innovation! It's ok for the pilots to fly by instruments (IFR) but not ok for the Towers to operate by instruments only? How many times are the Controllers actually looking out the windows instead of the screens in front of them? Even so, cameras can see more than the human eye!

But it's "traditional" to have a Tower w/360% view, even if you can't see out the window in inclement weather that's still fit for flight.

The same "tradition" keeps Airplane seats facing forwards when scientific studies has shown that a crash situation, the seats can be lighter and stronger if they were facing backwards (I have yet to hear of a plane crash into an object backwards)! The weight reduction would enable the operators add more seats or more fuel to extend the range.

Once the plane is airborne, it's hard to feel the direction of travel (even if your looking out the window), and the sensation of lift-off and landing will be a wash since only the order they occur in will change.

kelvint63
30th June, 2014 @ 12:14 pm PDT

@kelvint63

I quite agree with you. As a personal choice I ALWAYS prefer to sit facing backwards even when traveling on a train.

The only time facing forward can be justified on a plane is when taking off. On a number of occasions I have experienced being literally pushed into the seat when the plane is accelerating for a takeoff. This is especially true on smaller commercial planes where the takeoff velocity is higher than the jumbos.

Whether this Saab system will be allowed to to be tested in the US & succeed will depend entirely how the US congress plays with it to favour US tech companies.

pmshah
30th June, 2014 @ 08:31 pm PDT

It seems to me that there is a possibility to use an army of drones, each of which will hover forever at a well-defined point of airspace. These drones should be equipped with cameras and sensors, and they should be able to transmit data to the Remote Tower Center (RTC).

Rafael Kireyev
30th June, 2014 @ 11:08 pm PDT

Actually this virtual ATC control console is commonly used in the US system. Any controller in any of the 22 en route ATC centers can assume control of any sector in North America, allowing for a dynamically reconfigurable system capable of shifting and balancing the workload among the facilities. This includes the radar/weather displays as well as the a/g radios & g/g telecommunications capabilities. I always called it a virtual ATC system. Now if we can just convert the radar to a GPS-based navigation system.

Mark Lee
1st July, 2014 @ 03:12 pm PDT

@ kelvint63

Most people don't like traveling backward even if they can't tell the difference the knowledge bothers them.

Slowburn
1st July, 2014 @ 05:45 pm PDT

@ Rafael Kireyev

Very expensive.

Slowburn
2nd July, 2014 @ 02:42 am PDT

I know this seems far-fetched, but is this system electromagnetic pulse-proof?

yrag
2nd July, 2014 @ 01:58 pm PDT

@ yrag

Probably to the extent that the planes are.

Slowburn
2nd July, 2014 @ 04:25 pm PDT

As a tech-savy professional, we are relying way too much on remote controlled operations. Hackers love to breech these type of applications just to prove that they can.

Bad idea, Sweden.

John Palmer
4th July, 2014 @ 08:24 pm PDT
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