Australia to test camera-based air traffic control

Technology to operate an air traffic control tower from a remote location will be tested in Australia next year.

During the trial, Airservices Australia staff will control aircraft at Alice Springs from its air traffic services centre in Adelaide, over 1,500 kilometres away, using information delivered from an array of cameras and sensors.

Defence and security company Saab developed the technology in conjunction with the Swedish air navigation service provider, LFV. It has already undergone thorough live testing in Sweden, where a contract was signed earlier this year to provide remote tower services at two airports from one central location.

Airservices, Australia’s national air traffic management provider, has been studying the potential technical, engineering, human factors and regulatory aspects of the technology to Australia over the past 12 months.

Mark Rodwell, Airservices acting general manager air traffic control, said the proposed evaluation of the technology would provide a good test of its viability in remote and harsh conditions. “Unlike Europe, we will have to deal with heat, dust and very occasionally, heavy rain at our site in Alice Springs,” he said.

A lack of multiple communication systems in Australia’s sparsely populated interior means providing appropriate back-up paths for critical data is also a challenging task. “For example, using an available alternative fibre-optic route for path diversity will involve a transmission distance of around 7,000km,” Rodwell said.

If the trial is successful Airservices will consider introducing remote operation at other airports across Australia, particularly those currently without towers but where aircraft movements are increasing.

Saab says that in some ways its technology improves safety compared with conventional air traffic management. The cameras can register changes in the image that will make hazards like unauthorised vehicles or foreign objects on the runway easier to detect, while a camera with automatic tracking can zoom in up to 36 times, replacing the traditional binoculars in a normal control tower.

A video tracking function automatically detects incoming aircraft and marks them on the screen, making it easier for the air traffic controller to follow them even in limited visibility.

Images from the zoom camera, radar and weather information are integrally presented in the 360-degree view, so the air traffic controller does not need to shift focus to see the information.

Per Ahl, Saab director marketing and sales for ATM, said the Australian trial “is an important breakthrough for Saab’s remotely operated tower solution and will be an important reference for the Asia Pacific region.”

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