Virtual Worlds

Remote tower technology promises to revolutionise the provision of air traffic services. Last year, Air Traffic Management magazine interviewed several leading exponents of this technology.
Round Table Participants: Detlef Schulz-Rückert, formerly head of tower systems at German air navigation services provider, DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung; Alex Sauriol, executive vice president, ATM/airport solutions, Searidge Technologies;  Per Ahl, director, M&S ATM, Saab ATM
 What is the status of your work in remote tower services?
Ahl: Saab has had an operational test system since 2008 in Sweden able to remotely operate a smaller airfield from a remote centre 100km away. Several feasibility studies have been conducted and technical enhancements executed. Two airports in Sweden were installed with the Saab Remote Tower during 2011 and certification was scheduled to be secured during 2012 (now scheduled to be secured by mid 2013). Australia will also have a Saab Remote Tower test system up and running during 2012 (certification now awaiting European regulatory go-ahead), the distance between the centre and airport there is 1,500 km
Sauriol: Searidge Technologies actively supports DFS, the Federal Aviation Administration and NAV CANADA with the ongoing development of video technology in air traffic management environments. The status ranges from focused development work, to ongoing operational demonstration to performance evaluation. We continue to work closely with operational teams in each of these companies on considerations regarding safety, quality, operational efficiency and human factors.
Schulz-Rückert: DFS has completed pre-operational work in Erfurt, Munich and Cologne and started projects for the implementation of its Distant Aerodrome Control Service in Munich and Erfurt. At Munich, the concept will be implemented in the existing tower for the control of the third runway instead of building a new tower. For Frankfurt, one could think of a Virtual Contingency Tower. DFS is also considering the Distant Aerodrome Control Service for the airport’s ramp control. Furthermore, DFS also plans to create a single control room to control three smaller aerodromes.
What is your vision for this technology?
Ahl: To have a full tower operation remotely controlled from another location, addressing small and medium sized airports with low traffic density and/or towers with a refurbishment need. For larger airports the remote tower concept can also provide an alternative contingency solution compared to a traditional one.
Sauriol: Our vision is to provide a flexible solution, through our Intelligent Video Platform called IntelliDAR, that can deliver benefits in a variety of operational environments such as: the FAA’s Staffed NextGen Tower programme which aims to enhance efficiency at large airports through the provision of enhanced surveillance tools; supporting contingency backup tower services and supporting small airports with full remote capability.
Schulz-Rückert: We believe that the technology behind our Distant Aerodrome Control Service not only allows for distant tower operations, it can also be used to adapt procedures for tower control operations in general. DFS plans to implement Instrument Control Rules and Visual Control Rules within its service so that, with the support of technology like A-SMGCS, controllers could manage ground traffic by instrument control rules and rely on instrument data. The use of visual data could then be of benefit to augment situational awareness in case of abnormal situations like emergencies. This could also lead to greater automation in airport control for example regarding lighting and safety net functions. This is a paradigm shift that we think is important to promote within the ATC community.
When and why did the concept of remote airport control become an important concept in your research and development efforts?
Ahl: In 2006, we received a request from an ANSP to see if this was feasible to do as we had experience from the military side.
Sauriol: Searidge has been actively involved in using video for surface management for five years now, with deployments around the world. We have developed Intelligent Video technology to provide safe situational awareness locally and remotely, enhancing today’s ground surveillance systems and providing new capabilities  and applications to continually increase the safety of surface operations
Schulz-Rückert: DFS has been one of the first ANSPs to introduce the concept in its research efforts. The reason for our interest in the distant tower concept was the question of efficiency: how is it possible to reduce the building costs of new towers? How can you create greater flexibility and efficiency in staffing? In 2000, DFS started its first research project together with the German Aerospace Centre. Since 2006, there has been closer cooperation between ANSPs worldwide, including regular meetings and conferences on this topic. In several trials it has been proven that the Distant Aerodrome Control Service fulfils all necessary regulations which were set up by the German national regulator in 2007 in order to receive a distant tower procedure certificate.
Do you see this as a promising development for your ANSP customer base, and why?
Ahl: It is very promising as it can address so many different issues with the same solution.
Sauriol: The most promising development for our ANSP customer base has been the introduction of our flexible solution set designed to allow an ANSP to introduce video into towered and non-towered environments in a low-risk/cost-effective manner. The key to the ongoing adoption of this kind of technology is integration with existing tower systems that controllers are familiar with.
Schulz-Rückert: Distant tower control offers various benefits for ANSPs, it can contribute to capacity growth and cost efficiency, two goals that every ANSP strives for. As we are an ANSP ourselves we know about the different operational and organisational requirements and needs. DFS has gained its experience in various research projects over the last years and has run different trials for the operational readiness of the solution. Now DFS can share its expertise also with other ANSPs.
What are the benefits of controlling aerodromes from afar and who are the stakeholders?
Sauriol: Video in general – and intelligent video specifically – is an effective way to enhance situational awareness for air traffic services personnel. Enhanced situational awareness in turn leads to enhanced safety and the ability to make airport operations more efficient, reducing delays and increasing throughput.
Ahl: There are both operational and safety enhancement that can be addressed in the same time as efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Schulz-Rückert: On the one hand distant tower control allows the observation of several small airports from one single control room. This leads to greater cost-efficiency through lower staffing and infrastructure costs. For large hubs the concept could be used instead of building a new tower in case of changed runway configurations or contingency operations. This helps to save building expenses. With our Distant Aerodrome Control Service the combination of instrument and visual data allows a greater situational awareness that leads to improved safety, fewer low-visibility procedures and thus more capacity and better punctuality.  These are benefits for airlines, airports, ANSPs, ground handling, thus, the aviation industry in general.
Is cost-efficiency and rationalisation of personnel the driving force behind remote aerodrome control?
Sauriol: Cost is a key factor, but safety is always the over-riding concern. Searidge IntelliDAR offers safe solutions at a much lower installed and ongoing cost compared to many traditional surveillance technologies. Because of its low cost and ease of installation, IntelliDAR  has the ability to extend its solutions to areas without service today.
Ahl: There are different drivers for different customers. Cost-efficiency is a positive thing where the r-TWR e.g. enables ATC services on-demand, offer ATC instead of uncontrolled services as well as the technological merge and harmonisation. Other benefits can be to meet an expansion within the Air Transport Domain, refurbishment of towers, new airports, etc.
Schulz-Rückert: Lower building expenses and more flexible staffing have been reasons for starting research projects in this field. These are important benefits for ANSPs but today we see much more potential in the concept, as for example by enhancing capacity in bad weather conditions.
What needs still to be done until remote aerodrome control becomes a common concept in ATC?
Schulz-Rückert: It will not only be necessary to improve technology and provide cost-efficient solutions for ANSPS, but it is also crucial to promote the benefits the concept offers and to develop a change management process for future controllers using the distant tower solution.
Ahl: To adapt rules and regulations to incorporate remote tower operations.
Sauriol: It is rapidly becoming a common concept, and most ANSPs are seriously examining its capability in their operations. IntelliDAR adoption has grown rapidly in the last three years in airports and towers around the world, and interest continues to build.
What are the greatest concerns or difficulties for implementing remote tower control and are there additional benefits? If so, what are they?
Sauriol: When implementing video solutions for Air Traffic Management applications, there should be a strong focus on the reliability of the system, and on how the out-the-window view is translated into a video presentation. These considerations are built into IntelliDAR. In addition, IntelliDAR allows presentation on a variety of display systems and hardware, so that it can be customized to each ANSP’s specific operation. It is important to keep in mind that aerodrome configurations – and human factors – vary greatly in different countries and regions of the world.
Ahl: One of the biggest concerns is the change in mindsets and to adapt new operational concepts/methods
Schulz-Rückert: The greatest difficulty for implementing the distant tower control will be the change management process, to empower controllers to accept and embrace the transition to new operational procedures and the new working environment, far from the controlled aerodrome.
Additional benefits: With our Distant Aerodrome Control Service the combination of instrument and visual data allows a greater situational awareness that leads to improved safety, fewer low-visibility procedures and thus more capacity and better punctuality.  These are benefits for airlines, airports, ANSPs, ground handling, thus, the aviation industry in general.
In how many towers is your technology being used to augment or replace controller out-the-window view?
Sauriol: Searidge has delivered operational video surveillance systems to the Edmonton International Airport, Toronto City Centre Airport, Malta International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport. In addition, we also have a number of demonstrations underway.
Ahl: One
Schulz-Rückert: Today we are using video technology at Cologne Airport to provide the controller with visual data of the ground situation in a place, where a building limits the controller’s view of the airfield. DFS now plans to roll out its solution also at other airports.
What sort of ANSPs are currently considering your technology? What are their considerations in examining this alternative?
Ahl: Both civil and military ANSPs. The main considerations are different; there are many dependencies in the areas of personal/organization, technical implementation and rules and regulations. Generally the concerns expressed focus on how to introduce such a new concept into their respective ATCO community, how can it be certificated, bandwidth issues between the airport and the control centre, etc
Sauriol: Searidge actively supports DFS, FAA and NAV CANADA with systems installed in each country. These ANSPs value the flexibility of IntelliDAR to adapt to different aerodrome configurations and to human factor requirements that vary greatly, not only from country to country, but also from airport to airport.
Schulz-Rückert: Several ANSPs have found our solution of combining instrument and visual data very interesting. With the advent of economic regulation of European ANSPs the concept is becoming even more important. It will be crucial to share knowledge to achieve efficiency gains and higher capacity.
How flexible is your system design to adapt to user requirements (specifically camera video presentation, varying display size and display layout requirements)?
Ahl: The baseline product that we have is based on five years’ of research and development. The Saab r-TWR has a core concept which allows the end users specific requirements to be fully addressed. It is flexible; we can provide large presentations on circular dome constructions or large/small flat screens. It’s really up to the customer to decide whether he wants to have a full 360 presentation or less.
Sauriol: The Searidge IntelliDAR, system is hardware-independent. It provides a number of different interfaces to different ATM systems, and has an open interface to allow rapid user adaptation of display look and feel.
Schulz-Rückert: We use a set of modular ATM-Systems, the PHOENIX Tower Automation Suite (TAS) for our solution. The TAS can be tailored to the customer’s requirements and can easily be integrated to different environments. Video technology works with different commercial off the shelf visual and thermal cameras. Existing installed cameras can easily be integrated. For display size and layout, no specific conditions required.
What network connections does the system support (copper/fibre/wireless) and where have they been tested?
Ahl: It depends on what kind of network a customer has and what kind of operation should be implemented, it is “just” connectivity.
Schulz-Rückert: We are using the corporate network, the connections have been tested together with the German Aerospace Centre in a project examining alternatives for the direct view of the airfield.
Sauriol: Searidge IntelliDAR has some unique technological advancements that allow video transport over low bandwidth. This results in a more cost effective operation compared to traditional surveillance. IntelliDAR installations operate on copper, fibre and wireless.
How does the system support interfaces to existing airport surface surveillance systems such as ASDE-X and A-SMGCS?
Ahl: There is no limitation to the number sensors, it is up to the customer to define the operation and what kind of sensor is to be integrated.
Sauriol: IntelliDAR supports a variety of open interfaces and industry standards to allow IntelliDAR to be integrated into existing ATM environments with minimal cost and disruption.
Schulz-Rückert: As part of our solution we use the multi-sensor data fusion system PHOENIX that displays the air and ground situation. It can fuse the following sensor data: A-SMR, SMR, ASMI, ASDE, ADS-B, MLAT, WAM). We add to the system data of video sensors, that track movements on the airfield and convert the information into the international standard data format ASTERIX. Thus, these video sensors serve as a non-cooperative sensor for A-SMGCS.
This technology feature appeared in Issue 2, 2011. Subscribe to Air Traffic Management today. Details can be found at: Key Shop