DUBAI: Saab prepares remote ATC tower system launch

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Saab is planning to install its remote tower surveillance system at the airports of Delma and Sir Bani Yas Islands to control air traffic at the two regional hubs from Abu Dhabi’s mainland.

The Swedish manufacturer has submitted proposals for the system, which allows air traffic controller staff to monitor aircraft movements at small airports via real-time video transmissions and provide full ATC coverage from a remote location.

The system was developed by Saab’s Sensis division to avoid full-time ATC staff at airports with few and far between aircraft movements. The idea is that remote controllers can direct their attention to departures and arrivals, while they are also able to handle traffic elsewhere.

The system has been installed at three regional airports in Sweden – Landvetter, Örnsköldsvik and Sundsval – all of which are to be controlled from a single location. The installation at Sundsval is due to be certified in January, says David Shomar, Saab Sensis’ regional director Middle East operations.

Each airport is continuously monitored by a set of 14 video cameras, which are installed on a mast to provide a seamless 360° vision of the airfield and its vicinity – both on the ground and in the air – which is equivalent to the view a controller would see from a tower. Additional, motorised zoom and infrared cameras are installed to provide close-up views of individual areas – as if the controller was using binoculars – and night vision capability.

All airports are permanently displayed on large screens at the control base. The ATC staff select an active airport, which is then prominently displayed in the central view, while the inactive ones are shown in a more peripheral manner. The system is managed via a series of touch screens on the controller’s panel, which provide aeronautical information, such as radar data, meteorological details as well as navigation system and airport lighting controls.

The system not only displays the tower view of the airports, but provides a number of additional functionalities to improve surveillance. If, for example, the runway cannot be seen due to fog, a synthetically generated image of the runway can be laid over the video transmission. The same can be done for taxiways, aprons and buildings at the airport.

Motion detection systems alert the controllers to movement at the airport or its vicinity. So the controllers are made aware of unexpected traffic even when the airfield in question is not displayed in the active mode at base.

The technology could even improve airport surveillance levels, says Shomar. But the challenge will be how quickly ATC staff can adapt to controlling different airfields at the same time, when part of their human performance depends on forming a mental picture of the airport in their minds.

This is being assessed by Swedish air navigation service provider LFV as part of the system’s certification at Sundsval airport, says Shomar.