Germany’s DFS launches remote operations at Saarbrücken from Leipzig centre

DFS, the German air navigation service provider, today started to control traffic at Saarbrücken Airport from a remote centre 450 kilometres away to the east in Leipzig.

After a four-week introductory phase, remote tower control will become part of regular operations using high-definition video and infrared cameras to monitor traffic.

Saarbrücken is the largest airport to date to conduct remote operations and over the next years DFS said it will use the new technology to control traffic at Erfurt and Dresden airports from Leipzig as well.

A combination of video and infrared cameras deliver a permanent 360-degree view of the airport. The panoramic image is displayed on a row of monitors set up above the controller working position. Controllers can select which section of the image they want to focus on. Pan-tilt-zoom video and infrared cameras have also been set up, allowing the smallest detail to be seen. Static cameras are used to monitor the Apron.

Controllers will also have a much better view thanks to the infrared technology, especially during bad weather and at night. In addition, the remote tower control system will support the controllers, automatically detecting movement and displaying details about aircraft in the air and on the ground, as well as other vehicles, on their monitors.

Aircraft can either be tracked manually or automatically using the pan-tilt-zoom cameras. For safety reasons, all optical functions are designed redundantly. The camera housings are heated and the cameras have an automatic cleaning function.

“Our remote tower system is an example of how new digital technologies can be used innovatively in the aviation sector,” said DFS chief executive Klaus-Dieter Scheurle. “We are improving our efficiency while maintaining the high standards of safety DFS requires. The system developed by DFS is unique and we have established a new standard in the world of remote tower technology.”

DFS has long monitored air traffic in German airspace remotely from its four large control centres in Langen, Bremen, Munich and Karlsruhe.

“It’s a logical next step to control take-offs and landings remotely,” said Scheurle. While maintaining the high safety standard, the introduction of remote tower technology to German airports should lead to cost-savings and allow air traffic controllers to be deployed more flexibly. “Until now, remote tower solutions had been an option for very small airports with low levels of traffic only,” said Scheurle. “Our system allows us for the first time to control a large international airport around the clock from one external location.”

DFS developed its remote tower system together with the Austrian high-tech company Frequentis, while the video and infrared sensors are supplied by Rheinmetall Defence Electronics.

A joint venture has been set up between a DFS subsidiary DFS Aviation Services and Frequentis for the national and international marketing of the DFS remote tower system. The joint venture is called Frequentis DFS Aerosense.

Ten air traffic controllers from Saarbrücken have transferred to Leipzig. Over the next years, DFS will transfer the control of Erfurt and Dresden airports there, too. The plan is to have the air traffic controllers progressively acquire all the ratings needed to control air traffic at all three airports, not just one. DFS can then deploy its personnel more efficiently and react more flexibly to changes. The costs for operating buildings and the associated infrastructure will also decline. Indeed, without remote tower technology at  Saarbrücken Airport, DFS would have had to construct a new control tower there.

A Luxair regional airliner was the first aircraft whose landing was controlled from the DFS Remote Tower Control Centre. The aircraft, a Bombardier DHC 8-400 from Luxembourg, touched down on the runway in Saarbrücken at 6:51 hrs on 4 December.

At 6:53 hrs, a regional aircraft of the same airline was the first aircraft to receive a take-off clearance from Leipzig. The aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ 700, took off on schedule and headed for Berlin Tegel Airport. The last aircraft controlled from the old tower took off on 3 December at 22.01 hrs. The destination of the Luxair flight was Luxembourg.

The tower in Saarbrücken will remain operational at first after the control of air traffic is transferred from Saarbrücken to Leipzig. After a four-week introductory phase, the remote tower control system is to become part of regular operations at DFS.