ATC Tower controllers face many challenges. While juggling a myriad of things, operators must continually be vigilant to monitor both the runways and taxiways below. Physical sightlines are one of the most significant sources of information, ensuring controllers communicate effectively with pilots and other personnel.
Unfortunately, Tower sightlines are not always perfect and do not remain constant. Several factors can impact observations including weather, distance, and obstructions…both externally and within the Tower itself. Regardless of the challenges faced, airport operations need to continue, and technology has evolved over the years to help assist controllers when they occur.
With current ATC console designs, monitors and equipment are placed out of the physical sightlines to provide an unobstructed view of the runway below, and new technology is expertly positioned to be readily available for poor weather conditions or visibility issues. Monitors can provide relevant information, such as surface movement radar systems and advanced visual systems, allowing the Controllers easy access to digital data and ultimately better information for aircraft control.
As airport growth continues, many Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) are considering expansion of ATC operations including providing Control Tower operations where none may have existed previously. The Remote Tower concept leverages state of the art visualization technology to replace the physical infrastructure of a brick and mortar building, presenting an enticing business case for many ANSPs around the world. While there is a great deal of focus paid to the visual technology required to operate under all conditions at any time of day, one area that may not have had as much examination – is the actual control room of the Remote Tower. With all of the out-the-window visualization being provided by technology, rather than by physical observation, it’s easy to forget that the Remote Tower, is still a “Control Tower” requiring many of the same needs as a traditional ATC Tower.
So what should one consider when designing their Remote Tower?
We’ve come up with the 10 most important considerations that ANSPs should closely examine…
- What field of view is needed by the visualization, and how will it be displayed?
- What technology will be used to achieve it?
- Does the ANSP have the visual system and display expertise to understand the technology and associated operating costs?
- What ATC equipment will need to be utilized at the controller positions and how will the equipment be displayed? How closely does it align with other Tower operational positions?
- Are consoles for the controller adequately positioned and configured to support ATC operations?
- Do the console positions consider the differences in visual display systems versus an operational ATC Control Tower?
- Are sightlines for all controller positions correctly positioned?
- Does the display system properly support the “control room” environment?
- Is the room containing the Remote Tower Control Room large enough, and does it support environmental requirements effectively?
- How much flexibility is required for the Remote Tower system? Some ANSPs are considering consolidating multiple Remote Tower control rooms into a single, large location. Will equipment reconfiguration be needed to enable a Remote Tower to support different operation locations?
A wide range of knowledge and experience is needed to properly consider the total physical environment for the Remote Tower control room. While technology is key to operational success, the control room layout and design are just as crucial in a Remote Tower and needs to be well thought out before execution.