How Remote Operations Shape the Future of Air Navigation

This October, Norwegian air traffic services reached a milestone . From Avinor’s Remote Tower Centre in Bodø, the first commercial passenger flight was guided to the Arctic island airport of Røst off the coast of Norway. Remote tower means that flight information officers or air traffic controllers are physically located in a tower centre, while the airport may be hundreds of kilometres away. High-tech cameras and sensors provide tower personnel with all important information at any time. For the team at Avinor Air Navigation Services, this operation is not only meant to secure a successful remote landing. It is a start to a new era in aviation. Why and how explains Jan Østby, Project Director for Remote Towers at Avinor Air Navigation Services.

The future Remote Tower Center in Bodø. 360-degree cameras in HD-quality and infrared-night view provide a precise out-of-the-window view. ©Avinor

The Landing Is a Start to a New Era

It was a great moment for Jan Østby and his team watching the landing in Røst from the remote tower in Bodø on the seamless panoramic screen. “It was exciting – years of intense development and collaboration with our partners KONGSBERG Defense and Indra came to a great result. As the aircraft approached, we had good contact and a good visual observation of the Widerøe aircraft until it landed. The remote tower system worked perfectly, as we had planned.”

The new technology will change the lives of people in small, rural communities significantly in a positive way.

But this is just the beginning. Avinor Navigation Services currently is building the world’s largest remote-controlled Tower Centre in Bodø. Once the team has moved, it will be operating five airports: Røst, Vardø, Hasvik, Berlevåg, Meham. By 2022 15 airports will be serviced, all small, rural communities, spread all over Norway plus the middle-sized airport of Bodø itself. For Jan Østby this is a huge step. “The new technology will change the lives of people in small, rural communities significantly in a positive way.”

Reliable air traffic service enhances the life quality of the people in small, secluded communities.

Reliable Service for Small Communities

Remote Towers first off all improve the quality and efficiency of airport operations in small communities. “In Norway, we have many small airports with little traffic. 2, 3 flights a day. The costs for the maintenance of towers and staff are expensive, plus, the service at small communities is vulnerable, due to the lack of staff”, Østby explains. But the people who live in these regions rely on air traffic. Aviation plays a key role in Norway’s economy, supply, tourism, and also the health sector: more than 30,000 ambulance journeys are made by air every year. “Remote towers for small communities deliver better, reliable service”, says Østby, “in the tower centre we can offer longer opening hours and immediate service in case of emergency.”

Military High-Tech Systems

Once finished, around 60 people will be working in the Remote Tower Centre of Bodø. According to Østby, this is a big opportunity especially for the operators. “Air traffic controllers and flight information officers get to work with the technology of the highest standards. Cutting-edge 360-degree cameras in HD-quality and infrared-night view provide a precise out-of-the-window view. Zooming, tracking and realtime sensor technology delivers better and more precise data than conventional towers.” In comparison, at some small airports, operators currently work with a microphone and a piece of paper only. Bodø will be installed as a knowledge and training hub, with knowledge sharing and continuous further development. Østby is convinced: “This technology is a massive change and opens many opportunities which we cannot even imagine today.”

This technology is a massive change and opens many opportunities which we cannot even imagine.today

Better Safety Than Conventional Towers

In aviation, safety is paramount. To ensure highest safety standards, Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace and Indra delivered High-end precision technology, originally developed for the military. The System is unique in terms of precision, sensor technology and the security of control systems, even under extreme circumstances. “We have tested the system thoroughly with regards to low temperatures, ice and snow”, Østby points out. “At the landing airports, we use cameras and sensors, that are based on the very strict Arctic climate standards. The camera at Røst has been running in test mode for two years without any problems.” In the case of mechanical problems, there is maintenance staff in place, and in the eventuality of total failure, there are redundant systems. Since the beginning of the project, the Remote Tower Team had a close dialogue with the Norwegian Civil Aviation authorities and the system has received its first stamp of approval.

Definition of International Standards and Rules

Østby and his team are also in touch with other developers of Remote Tower Technology, e.g. in Sweden and Germany. “There is cooperation to define the standards, and the definition of rules”, says Østby. But there is also competition. With the unique, sophisticated technology, that is also suitable for extreme weather conditions, Østby is positive, that the Norwegian system could be rolled out successfully in other countries. And what about further plans for Norway?

High-tech equipment is tried and tested for extreme weather conditions

Remote Operating of the New Airport

By 2025 Avinor plans to move the airport of Bodø to a new bigger terrain to build one of the most modern airports in the world. “Avinor’s ambition is to operate all flights of this new airport completely from the Remote Tower Center.” An ambitious goal, as the new airport is going to be a hub with also international flights. Jan Østby imagines that in 20 years, Norway’s entire air traffic will be operated from three or four Tower Centres. In the distant future, it is also thinkable to operate starts and landings are operated with artificial intelligence. Østby is convinced: “The future of air navigation is virtual, that’s clear.”

All flights of Bodø’s new airport are supposed to be serviced by the Remote Tower Center                                                                                                                      ©Avinor

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