A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of being invited by Frequentis to speak about the business case for Remote Towers as part of their webinar. Just under 200 registrants from 119 organisations worldwide tuned in to hear Frequentis, Jane’s, Embry Riddle and myself discuss various aspects of Remote Tower. So why did I spend the first 7 minutes of my 15 minute slot telling people what they already knew and stating that the current business case for Remote Tower is rather limited?
In 2009 LFV asked Think to help write the initial Operational Concept for Remote Towers as part of the SESAR Remote and Virtual Tower project. At the time, the technology had already been partly developed and proven in previous research projects in Sweden and Germany but there was no actual concept of operations to build the technology around. What has happened since is well documented: Remote Tower has become one of the stars of SESAR. The OSED we wrote with LFV has been adopted and adapted for research projects in Norway, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and more and even for the flagship implementation project in Sweden. Pretty much everyone in the industry can hear the phrase “Remote Tower” and picture those beautiful installations in places like Sundsvall and Bodo.
The problem for me is that the concept is a victim of its own success. The excitement around what people understand Remote Tower to be belies the reality. Remote provision of ATS to a single aerodrome (“Single Remote Tower”) is a success in technical and operational terms for low density, low complexity aerodromes. However, the main implementation driver is cost reduction and yet we are not at a level of operations where a return on investment is being realised. The business case does not stack up – yet. This is why organisations like LFV are expanding their Remote Tower Centre in Sundsvall and Avinor have announced large scale roll out at 15 aerodromes. We need that volume in order to maximise gains from the relatively small savings per aerodrome when operating in Single mode.
Other variants of the original concept such as Multiple Remote Tower and Contingency Remote Tower offer greater opportunities for cost reduction but each of those has hurdles to overcome: Multiple Remote Tower is relatively immature and this is a concern for the ATCO unions; Contingency Remote Tower still has to prove it can deliver close to 100% capacity at larger aerodromes. Personally, I am convinced, based on the live trials we have conducted for our clients, that both concepts will work once maturity is achieved.
To unlock the true potential of Remote Tower we actually have to forget what we know about Remote Tower. In fact let’s stop calling it Remote Tower at all! Initially Remote Tower was considered to be the parent with the variants (Single, Multiple, Contingency) as the child nodes. In reality, Remote Tower as we know it today is merely one of many branches in a large concept which we commonly refer to as Digital Aerodrome Traffic Services.
This is a much broader look at what the new technologies can enable once the link between local ATS provision and direct visual observation is not required. The industry is developing other technological and procedural enablers such as synthetic views, multi-angle displays, integration of surveillance technologies, ATS/AOP/NOP integration and cross border ATS provision leading to new concepts enabling greater benefits.
The business case for these concepts will be based on resilience, cost, flexibility, access and even safety benefits. The switch from Remote Tower to Digital Aerodrome Traffic Services is what really enables the concept to fly allowing far greater tailoring to the local circumstances.
We will be blogging on our thoughts on next generation solutions in the coming weeks.