Remote tower at your service

Several of SESAR’s members have taken a strong lead in moving the Remote Tower Services solution from concept to reality. In this article, three of SESAR’s members explain their involvement in this process, the need for Remote Tower Services and what the future holds for this innovative SESAR solution

What has been your involvement and experience within the SESAR Programme in developing Remote Tower Services?

NORACON, a consortium of nine Air Navigation Service Providers, has played a leading role in the development of the remote tower operational concept, expanding on results from previous studies and concretising these within the SESAR Programme. In addition to formulating the Operational Services and Environment Description (OSED) and requirements in collaboration with industry, NORACON members - namely AVINOR and LFV - have invested significant resources and effort in validating the concept on platforms that mimic real operational conditions, assessing both single and multiple operations for Aerodrome Flight Information Services (AFIS) and Aerodrome Control Service (TWR). LFV have also demonstrated the use of Remote Tower Services as an enabler for contingency solutions at larger airports.

NATMIG, North European ATM Industry Group, has been developing remote tower prototypes within SESAR through its member SAAB. The maturity of the concept has been demonstrated through the operational validations of these prototypes by NORACON partners. Thanks to the involvement of diverse stakeholder groups across Europe, these validation exercises have also ensured a greater understanding and acceptance of the remote tower concept.

DFS, Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, has been actively involved in the development of both single and multiple remote tower services within SESAR. SESAR provides a unique opportunity for Air Traffic Service (ATS) providers to develop a harmonised OSED for Remote Tower Services. While the contributing operational partners provide views on different airport environments and procedures, industrial partners respond by offering technical solutions for reproducing the “out-of-the-window-view” based on an agreed set of operational requirements. All partners benefit from having insight into each other’s validation activities, as well as through disclosing ways to overcome remaining obstacles.

What business need do Remote Tower Services answer and who benefits from these services?

NORACON: Remote tower and AFIS service provision brings about the means to increase efficiency and flexibility of ATS provision, which is very much needed at small-to-medium airports today, where business margins are currently low. Organisational gains are made possible in areas such as common workspaces, safety learning and training, harmonisation of equipment and methods, which were previously difficult due to geographical constraints. The concept also addresses challenges related to recruiting and maintaining staff in rural areas.

NATMIG: Remote towers allow ATS at airports with low or seasonal traffic to stay economically viable and to extend their operating hours. Building and maintenance costs are also reduced, which makes contingency towers a possibility for many more airports. With remote towers, ATC resources are pooled, which allows for increased training opportunities for Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) who no longer have to move to remote areas.

DFS: Remote Tower Services will contribute to a more cost efficient provision of air traffic services at small airports. Controllers will be cross-trained for a number of airports enabling them to provide aerodrome control services to different airports, which will allow a more efficient shift planning. Deployment will start with single remote tower operations, while the multiple remote tower is expected to provide even more productive and hence cost efficient operations. But the latter concept is still subject to research. How far are we from seeing Remote Tower services deployed?

NORACON: We believe that SESAR has provided sufficient evidence of the concept’s operational feasibility. Deployment is already at an advanced stage of implementation by some  ANSPs within the NORACON consortium. We believe that deployment at a larger scale is likely to take place already within the next couple of years for single aerodrome operations, and that in the years to follow we will see even greater benefits emerging as a gradual transition can be made towards multiple aerodrome operations, which is already planned for validation in SESAR.

NATMIG: After eight years of development, the single remote tower concept is being deployed in several countries and will be granted permission to operate at the first airport in Sweden during second quarter of 2014. The next generation of the remote tower, which will be capable of handling up to three airports simultaneously, is now under development and will be available at the end of 2014. With some initial real-time simulations by DFS/DLR and NORACON/SAAB, the multiple remote tower concept will undergo further validation exercises within SESAR.

DFS: Within the next few years, DFS plans to relocate aerodrome control services from some small airports to a remote tower centre. Located in Leipzig, in a first step, the centre will serve the German airport of Saarbrücken. The airports of Erfurt and Dresden will follow .The deployment will initially involve single remote tower operations, which means that the tower runway controller will provide the service to one airport at a time. The remote tower working positions will be equipped with conventional ATS systems complemented by a reproduction of the "out-of-the-window-view" based on a camera sensor system.