Leesburg prepares for remote tower testing

Virginia’s Leesburg Executive Airport will be testing remote tower technology this summer, requiring operators flying under both VFR and IFR to contact the tower.

The remote tower concept uses a variety of high-definition camera and sensors to enable controllers in a remote facility to serve airports that do not have a tower.

Use of the remote tower at Leesburg is part of a joint effort by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  and Virginia Small Aircraft Transportation System Laboratory which is using Saab Sensis’ technology to evaluate the safety and practicality of the remote concept for possible use at Leesburg.

The first phase of testing began at Leesburg during a one-month period last autumn. This year’s tests begin June 5 and run through August 12, from 6am to 2pm each day, and then will run from 4pm to midnight August 13 until September 8.

Pilots using Leesburg during the test period, even those who frequently fly into the airport, should pay close attention to NOTAMs, said Heidi Williams, director of air traffic services and infrastructure for NBAA. Williams stressed that pilots should continue to follow the conditions of the Leesburg manoeuvring area, which are detailed in the SFRA NOTAM.

The cost of implementing a remote tower ‘is significantly less than doing a full stand-up tower’, Williams said who added that such remote facilities offer the benefit of controlled traffic at airports that are unable to afford the construction and maintenance of a full, stand-alone tower. Plus, it adds an enhanced layer of safety at what otherwise would be an uncontrolled airport, she said.

The Leesburg remote tower system uses a number of Saab technologies – high definition video cameras, pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera, signal light gun (SLG) and microphones — that will provide data directly to a remote tower centre which is also located at the airport.

The centre will have multiple high-definition displays and two controller working positions with command of voice communications, the cameras and SLG. Data will be collected from the centre, along with data from a Mobile Air Traffic Control Tower (MATCT) that will be deployed at the same time for safety redundancy and data comparison. FAA-certified controllers will staff both the RTC and MATCT.

Owned and operated by the Town of Leesburg, the Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) is the second busiest general aviation airport in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located 35 miles from Washington DC, Leesburg Executive Airport is a designated reliever airport for Washington-Dulles International Airport.

Leesburg Executive Airport has a 5,500 foot grooved asphalt runway with a 70,000-pound dual-wheel capacity. A new Instrument Landing System was commissioned in March 2011, supplementing the existing GPS and WAAS approaches. New Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPIs) and an upgrade of the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) was completed in 2012.

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