Southern Italy's air traffic infrastrucure gets virtual boost

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A local saying "Cristo si è fermato a Eboli" or "Christ stopped at Eboli" was used by writer Carlo Levi as the title of a book, referring to the horrendous poverty in the south of Italy at the start of the 20th century.

No surprise then that little over a century later Campania remains eligible for vital Objective One funding - one of three European Union programmes set up to help reduce differences in social and economic conditions within the European Union.

Of the three programmes, Objective One is the highest priority designation for aid and is targeted at areas where prosperity, measured in gross value added per head of population, is 75% or less of the European average.

 

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Dr Pasquale Schiano of Italian aerospace research centre CIRA says that this reality has provided the germ of an innovative regional economic initiative to enhance and upgrade the infrastructure that allows vital air traffic links throughout southern Italy.

What CIRA is proposing with the small and medium-sized businesses in Campania and Puglia is to kickstart research activities with the aid of Objective One funds to establish a network of "virtual towers" to enhance air traffic management at minor airports in southern Italy with the concomitant heavy costs of constructing physical structures.

Schiano says that in this way CIRA is strengthening its participation in the Single European Sky joint technology initiative aimed at overhauling Europe's creaking patchwork of air traffic fiefdoms while avoiding duplication, as this effort will be an attempt by Italian industry, together with research centres and academics, to pioneer something exclusively for domestic application.

"We originally started with a round table discussion with all these stakeholders in an effort to determine what CIRA and other research centres should and could focus on. Our remit was to look closely at specific issues that are not covered by other Italian players."

VIRTUAL TOWERS

One example was the virtual tower, applying virtual reality techniques to existing air traffic infrastructure to allow minor airports in southern Italy to increase substantially their technological offering without the onerous capital outlay. As Schiano says: "We cannot provide a physical air traffic control tower for each airport, but the idea is to support these minor airports by using virtual towers using high-speed communication and virtual reality tools, etc."

He adds: "The main objective here is to improve interregional mobility because, for example, in Italy we have several major airports - but if you want to travel from Naples to the south in Apulia or Calabria we really need to be talking about improvements in general aviation infrastructure."

Thanks largely to Campania's leadership position in general aviation manufacturing terms, the virtual tower initiative will partner other funding efforts focused on improving the 10- to 20-seat aircraft and small helicopter segment, further improving regional mobility.

"In this framework CIRA is proposing a joint Campania-Apulia initiative," says Schiano. Both regions are eligible for Objective One funding and with the addition of regional funding could total a research initiative of the order of €50 million ($62.5 million).