Last year marked the first deployment of the world's only remote-controlled air traffic control module.
After initial tests, the technology is set to expand into the US at an executive airport in Virginia — and gradually shift expectations of air traffic management for smaller air fields.
Developed by Saab's Air Traffic Management team for over nearly a decade, the first Remote Tower outpost was installed in 2013 at Sundsvall Remote Tower Centre, which is 100km from Sweden's Örnsköldsvik Airport.
After extensive testing, the remote control tower went into operation in fall of 2014 with full approval by the Swedish Transport Agency to operate as an air traffic control tower.
That means it was actually routing planes and managing take-offs and landings — real deal stuff. Pilots are never told whether the controller is live or virtual, and overall the experience is exactly the same.
The concept is ideally suited for smaller airports that cannot afford the cost of a manned air traffic controller at all times, meaning that shared controllers could operate across regional airports while also expanding those airports' hours of operation.
The implications for wider commercial traffic are also quite immense: clusters of air traffic controllers could be created to boost capacity during specific time periods; larger airports could also use these remote towers for less mission critical tasks; cash-strapped airports would no longer have to build a whole new tower if an airport expansion has limited the controllers' field of view.
The company explains the technology as such:
The Saab Remote Tower product suite includes High Definition cameras and Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras, surveillance and meteorological sensors, microphones, signal light guns and other devices for deployment at the airport.
Data from these sensors are sent to a Remote Tower Center (RTC) to be displayed in real time. A controller at the RTC has the tools, in addition to live video, to operate the airport in a similar manner as he or she would in a traditional Air Traffic Control Tower.
This video visually goes into how it all works.