Making Real Ground With Virtual Towers

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Sweden’s Saab Sensis says it will begin in January a certification program for what will be the world’s first remotely operated control tower at an operational airport once approved by Swedish regulators in June or July.

Following years of testing at several pilot airports, Saab Sensis is now installing a remote tower at Sundsvall Airport on the east coast of the country to operate as the virtual air traffic control tower there, but also for the Ornskoldsvik Airport, located 100 miles to the northeast.

In the virtual tower, controllers will be surrounded by fourteen 42in-diagonal LCD display screens, with a 15th display on hand as a backup that can be quickly moved into place. Controllers will interact with the equipment via touchscreen displays at their workstations.

Surveillance hardware includes 14 high definition video cameras including a fixed camera for low-visibility operations and two zoom cameras, either of which can act as a backup to any of the other cameras. Also included in the camera pod is a light gun that manned control towers use to signal landing and takeoff instructions to aircraft without a functioning two-way radio.

Once certified, the idea is to operate the virtual towers in parallel with existing towers, eventually closing down the legacy manned towers. Saab Sensis says there will be no decrease in operations at the airports with the virtual tower.  The company says installing a virtual tower should cost 70-75% less than building a new control tower.

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