Irish claim world-first multiple tower remote trial

Ireland’s IAA has completed its operational trials on remote tower technology, heralding the launch of multiple tower remote operations by a single air traffic controller.

In 2016, the IAA, along with a consortium of stakeholders, validated the SESAR JU concept of remote tower technology through a series of operational trials based on over 50 demonstrations. These highly successful trials built upon the experience of single remote tower operations and validated the capability for single air traffic controller operation of multiple remote towers.

Peter Kearney, IAA director of ATM operations and strategy, said: “Following these trials, we firmly believe that tower services at multiple airports can be safely provided by a single air traffic controller remotely. With carefully designed procedures, it will almost certainly be possible to allow one controller to simultaneously provide ATM services for more than one low volume aerodrome. This would be subject of course to successful completion of safety assessments, regulatory approval and appropriate stakeholder consultation.”

He added: “The IAA has a strong tradition of being innovative to deliver cost efficiency, improved safety and higher productivity levels. With this in mind, we are delighted with the outcome of our recent Remote Tower technology trials. We believe this work represents the world’s first trial of multiple tower remote operations by a single air traffic controller.”

In March 2016, the IAA completed the system installation, which was supplied by Saab. This was composed of three main elements:

  • remote towers, sensors and cameras at Cork and Shannon airports,
  • a remote tower centre in Dublin, and finally
  • network connectivity between the remote sites at Shannon and Cork and the centralised control room in Dublin.

Between June and August 2016, the IAA worked to validate the system through operational trials, which tested the limits of remote tower technology. Trials started with low volume traffic levels to emulate nighttime operations at Shannon and Cork. Traffic levels were then progressively increased throughout the trials to investigate the level of air traffic that can be safely handled.

“These trial validated that single controller operation of multiple remote towers in a live air traffic environment, this we believe is a world first,” said Kearney.

IAA also demonstrated the significant safety benefits from the enhanced visual displays offered by the remote tower centre. These include integrated track and label information as well as the ability to digitally enhance imagery.

“There are many critical areas to be addressed and these trials are a significant milestone in proving the reliability and integrity of these systems. Remote tower technology will play a vital role in the future of air traffic service provision for aerodromes across the world including Ireland,” added Kearney.

This technology is still at a relatively early stage of development, with only a few operational implementations at isolated airports with few movements. Remotely operated towers do offer significant potential to assist air navigation service providers to reduce and control their costs in line with airline and European Commission expectations without negatively impacting on safety and/or service delivery.

This potential is greatest at smaller, less busy regional airports where the volume of traffic is likely to be insufficient to cover the costs of service provision at a user charge that is sustainable from the customers’ perspective. Furthermore, remotely operated towers may also provide a solution for busier airports in terms of effectively managing operations at night time and other periods of low traffic. The potential of remotely operated towers will, however, only be realised if safety and operational reliability are guaranteed. To this end, early regulatory approval in Europe is required.

The IAA thanked the SESAR JU, consortium partners, the DAA and Stobart Air as well as its customers for their support and encouragement received with this highly innovative project.

Information on the IAA’s Remote Towers Trial

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2 Responses to Irish claim world-first multiple tower remote trial

  1. Keith Penny says:

    I believe that the ENAV RACOON project superceded this effort

  2. Tony Rothwell says:

    All of which leaves aside the threshold question: If a location has such little traffic that you can provide remote tower services to it (and others at the same time), WHY have a tower service there in the first place?

    Since the function of a tower is to separate aircraft in the circuit area and on the surface of the aerodrome, unless you have sufficient traffic to justify a separation service you do not have sufficient to justify a tower!

    Tony R.