Colorado’s remote tower project gets underway 

Camera masts have now been successfully installed at the official US test facility at Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport where a remote air traffic control system is being developed, writes Aimée Turner in the latest issue of Air Traffic Management magazine.

A unique collaborative effort between the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics and the United State Federal Aviation Administration, the non-towered regional airport was chosen as the test facility for this technology based on several factors including the availability of commercial air service, traffic volume, and the wide mix of aircraft types operating there. Canada’s Searidge Technologies was charged last year with installing, testing and certifying the system.

The US$8.8 million project will employ a combination of visual and electronic surveillance technologies to provide Class D Airspace (control tower) services from a non-traditional control facility located on the airport.

The remote tower system consists of a system of distributed cameras, one at mid-field and one at each end of the primary instrument runway. This configuration will provide an exceptional view of the airfield surface along with a view up the arrival/departure path for each runway.

The central mast will have 14 high definition cameras that will provide a stitched 360 degree view of the local airspace, three pan-tilt-zoom cameras, one of which will be combined with a signal light gun which will permit the air traffic controller to point the light gun at an aircraft that does not have a functioning radio.

Each of the two end masts will have six high definition cameras, four of which will provide a 180 degree view of the runway and two fixed zoomable cameras pointed up the arrival/departure course.

Another major component of the Colorado Remote Tower Project is the track-based (radar) display of traffic in the local area which will provide the controller with the locations and relative positions of aircraft operating in local airspace.

“This is a critical element of the remote tower system,” said Bill Payne, programme manager, “as the human eye losses depth perception, without a frame of reference, at approximately 1.5 miles. The situation is further compounded when displaying the 3D world on a 2D screen. There are other human factor elements that exacerbate this situation although these issues are either eliminated or mitigated by the radar display.”