Air Force Tests Remote Air Traffic Control Towers

By Stew Magnuson

Photo: Frequentis

GEELONG, Australia — An Austria-based company’s remote virtual air traffic control tower product is beginning to attract customers in both the civilian and military aviation sectors.

Vienna-based Frequentis has sold its smartVISION tower system to civilian customers in Argentina, Germany and New Zealand. The U.S. Air Force acquired two fixed systems and two deployable systems in October, Mark Robinson, head of air traffic management at the company said on the sidelines of Avalon — the Australian Airshow.

There are a couple business cases for the technology, which allows air traffic controllers to monitor airports from remote locations, he said. One is the sheer expense of building, updating or refurbishing air traffic control towers. They can cost $10 million to upwards of $40 million to replace.

“It’s quite an expensive business,” he said. Frequentis’ system of cameras, automatic dependent surveillance feeds — which provides aircraft identity information — and high-fidelity monitors can cost around $2 million to $3 million depending on the scale of the airport.

“We put cameras in certain locations, monitor airspace and we send that picture somewhere else. ‘Somewhere else’ can be downstairs in the same building, or it can be 1,000 miles away,” he said.

The other business case is for airports with little traffic. Scandinavian countries, for example, have numerous remote airports in small cities that only see a few flights per day. Yet the communities want air traffic controllers. Ten such airports could be monitored from a central location, which comes with a great deal of savings on manpower, he said.

As for military applications, there is a safety factor. In war-torn areas, air traffic towers are big, fat targets. During the Iraq war, they were shot at and shelled, Robinson said.

“You can take some deployable cameras in the back of a Humvee, put the cameras up and sit miles away in a shelter,” he said. For austere runways with little infrastructure, a basic system could be set up within hours, he added.

The dual-use system has gotten the attention of the military. Frequentis received its first military contract for smartVISION in October. The Defense Department acquired the four systems and sent one of the fixed systems to be used at a “Florida Air Force base” and the second at a site to be determined, according to a press release. They were acquired for evaluation purposes, the statement said.

The systems “will reduce the risk to controllers and infrastructure, while reducing capital investments and allowing for the optimization of our resources,” Ed Wright, executive director of the Air Force’s flight standards agency, said in the statement.

Topics: Air Force News, Budget

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.