Do air traffic controllers really need to look out of the window in a control tower to manage traffic at an airport?
That’s a question UK air navigation service provider NATS is now asking in a recent blog post. The company knows it can’t ignore the advances in remote tower technology that are already available, and those advances will get even more impressive than they already are.
NATS’ general manager operations (airports) Paul Jones says: “I’m in little doubt that this [remote towers] is the next big thing for our industry, but are we moving towards a time when physical control towers won’t be needed at all? We’ll see.”
If it happens, control towers everywhere will be replaced by steel masts bristling with video cameras, communications antennae and sensors of all kinds, from microphones to meteorological devices, and the controllers will be in windowless rooms that could be anywhere in the world, looking at all-round displays showing the aerodrome they are managing at the time.
There is no question but that this will be an ATC solution for remote airfields that are vital for the community they serve, but which only see a few movements a day. A pair of duty controllers at a remote “tower” can log onto the airfield when a movement is due, then log onto another airfield when their services are needed there.
Maybe Paul is right in his instinct that this is going to be the future, or a large part of it. But it does seem strange to reject the resources – natural light and human sight – that a tower visual control room exploits.
If cost reduction is the objective, VCRs must be one of the cheapest possible options at busy airports. Just don’t build an expensive “designer” tower.