Saab will roll out its remote air traffic control system to Sundsvall airport in Sweden in the coming weeks, extending a service that has been in place at Örnsköldsvik airport since April 2015.
Instead of a traditional ATC tower infrastructure, Saab’s remote system uses 14 cameras to provide a stitched 360˚ view of an airfield, which can be operated from a site miles from the airport itself.
Swedish air navigation service provider LFV was the first to approve the concept, which is only being operated at these sites at present.
Live images from the two airports are fed into the control centre at Sundsvall, with a third airport – Linköping – to be added next year.
During the Farnborough air show in July, the concept was demonstrated to the public, which Per Ahl, vice-president for commercial, civil security and traffic management at Saab, says was “an eye opener” for many potential customers.
Saab has had discussions with the UK’s International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO) unions in recent months, “to highlight the operational-driven design philosophy of the remote tower”.
“We see these positive interactions with both ITF and GATCO as very important and we will continue to foster our engagement with both of these stakeholders,” Ahl says, adding that there is a generational shift in the approach to this new digital way of operating.
Other tests have taken place in Australia, the Netherlands and Norway, plus Ireland, where the control centre at Dublin airport oversaw flights from Cork and Shannon.
The Irish trials finished in August and the nation's regulator will now assess the outcomes, with the results expected to be released in November.
Saab is offering an unmanned air vehicle tracking capability to the system, which utilises missile tracker technology to monitor small targets.
“At this stage, we have focused on the detection and identification of a drone,” Ahl says. “This ability to rapidly sense, locate, identify and track airborne or ground intrusions is a major step forward for controllers.”
He adds that should a customer wish to build on this, including adding UAV countermeasures to the system, “we are ready to explore options”.
Military customers have also expressed interest, and “hopefully by the end of the year we will have detail on that”.
The level of redundancy that can be incorporated into the system depends on customer requirements, Ahl adds, which could involve integrating multiple numbers of each camera type to ensure that 360˚ coverage is maintained.
Large airports with dense traffic such as Dubai and London Heathrow, for example, could opt for triple redundancy and install three sets of each camera, he notes.