Project Management Institute

Remote air control

projects to implement next-gen air traffic control systems are taking flight

Some air traffic control towers could soon become obsolete. Last year, after completing a project implementing Saab's Remote Tower services system, Sweden's tiny Örnsköldsvik Airport became the first airport to allow air traffic controllers to work remotely. Employees show up for work at a larger airport 100 kilometers (62 miles) away and do their job using cameras, microphones and signal light guns installed at Örnsköldsvik. They look at panoramic monitors and listen to stereo sound systems.

“For the air traffic controller, this is like airline pilots going from propeller to jet,” Remote Tower system project manager Mikael Henriksson told NPR. “It's a paradigm shift.”

In August, Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia, USA began a 15-week project to test Saab's system after a 15-week installation phase. It's the first U.S. site to use the technology. (The technology has also been tested at Australian and Norwegian airports.)

By creating a network of airports operated from one location, the technology can reduce building costs and the number of employees needed at small and secluded facilities. For Saab, the Leesburg airport project is a proving ground that could lead to more U.S. business. “We want to build confidence with the [Federal Aviation Administration] to show that this can work as advertised instead of a traditional brick-and-mortar air traffic tower,” Saab Vice President and Head of Communications John Belanger told Leesburg Today.

While initial trials are being held at small airports, larger projects could bring the remote technology to big, high-traffic airports over time. But for such initiatives to get the green light, international aviation agencies would have to approve of controllers directing air traffic at multiple airports. If that happens, project budgets are likely to be a bit bigger than what Leesburg paid to enable testing: US$2,000 for two phone lines and electricity.

Imani Mixon

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