Skyguide finds itself facing a unique window of opportunity. The implementation of a remote tower in Geneva is an important milestone on the path of reaching skyguide’s “Vision 2035”. For Urs Lauener (COO), the transformation of existing towers into remote solutions is the next step to take in terms of location independence, safety and cost-efficiency.
Read the interview below with Urs Lauener (COO skyguide) for more details about the remote tower project at skyguide.
For skyguide, what was the starting point for looking into the remote tower technology?
We have been monitoring the development of this technology since its early beginning. The first attempts took place at small aerodromes with low traffic in Sweden, a model for which skyguide did not see any potential in Switzerland. However, since then, this technology has also arrived at big airports and even big hubs. Examples are London City, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Not all of these projects are fully operational yet, but it shows the potential of this technology and attracted skyguide’s attention. Contingency towers, that use the same technology as remote towers but keep working hand in hand with physical towers, have also aroused skyguide’s interest. This system has been used in London Heathrow for the past 10 years and can serve 80% of the traffic. I think it is the right time to look into this technology and establish a plan for skyguide.
Our change manager Digital Towers is mandated to develop a remote tower roadmap from an operational perspective. This roadmap will look at international airports and the regional aerodromes and shall be an integral part of skyguide’s operational strategy at a later stage.
He has identified a three-fold situation:
Could you briefly explain why skyguide needs remote towers?
Skyguide finds itself in need of an innovative adjustment to the 2020 context, while at the same time, the current Geneva tower is at the end of its lifecycle. This implies that substantial investment will be needed in the near future for its maintenance. However, investing heavily in maintaining the current tower infrastructure would be neither beneficial nor future-oriented. A better investment resides in a new and innovative solution, one that keeps on providing the best technology for air traffic controllers (ATCOs) in a cost-efficient way. In doing so, safety will be enhanced, performance will be optimised and the synergies of the current common instrument flight rules (IFR) room will be maximised. And last but not least, with this move we would follow the logic of location independence which is a corner stone of our Virtual Centre Programme.
In addition, the COVID-19 crisis we are currently facing requires skyguide to adjust its way of functioning on various levels. The bailout from the Swiss government comes with certain conditions. Apart from an overall cost reduction, this means mostly the need for innovative solutions to keep on doing business while exploring opportunities for other business models.
To what extent will air traffic controllers benefit from a remote tower?
As per the “Vision 2035”, skyguide is putting in place a strategy to be able to provide location-independent services. In order to be fully independent from current assigned locations, skyguide will move its tower services away from the airport.
Moving towards a remote tower will thus consolidate all ATCOs in a unique location and open up the possibility for synergies in terms of rostering and shifts, at night or with off-peak traffic. Benefits will also stem from system usage and operational flexibility. This is an opportunity to continue our system integration, and to implement new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), which will further improve the overall system and so assist the ATCOs in their complex tasks. Finally, the remote tower is a solution that will optimise costs for the usage of skyguide’s premises, all while supporting initiatives like the one data centre approach.
Furthermore, remote towers will enhance the visibility for ATCOs, particularly in bad weather conditions and at night. The day-night cameras can capture all areas of interest at the airport, regardless of how distant they might be and without any visual obstruction, such as buildings. Besides, viewing the traffic further away from the tower will be made possible, thanks to the use of overlays that can be integrated into a video wall solution. Taxiway crossing can also be monitored with the help of the remote towers’ new technologies, and thus be integrated to the responsible ATCO’s overall view. All of these elements will improve the situational awareness of an ATCO.
How would this technology specifically fit Geneva?
The implementation of a remote tower in Geneva could eventually take place in the Common IFR Room (CIR), close to the APP positions (on skyguide premises). Such a change would allow better use of ATCO resources during off-peak times and a better usage of the technology already installed in the CIR. It would also allow greater synergy in the company, thus improving the ability to deal with contingencies, avoid redundancy, and integrate the system and infrastructure strategy. Specifics of these positive outcomes are currently under validation through the feasibility study we are running with the support of NATS UK.
The remote tower project is just now getting underway. What are the next steps to take in the near future?
The study launched in September is currently verifying the assumptions made by skyguide and comparing them with the experiences and lessons learned from previous projects and systems used nowadays, which were also managed by NATS UK. By the end of 2020, we will know whether our assumptions were correct. I expect that this study will confirm the feasibility of a remote solution for Geneva Airport and mark the way ahead for a possible implementation.
If we adopt this leading edge technology, we will do it based on a sound analysis. I am deeply convinced that remote tower is the future of airport control.