Aviation is growing and operational, regulatory, security, and commercial expectations are changing , and this is placing pressure on the associated airport infrastructure, much of which can require enormous redesign and capital expenditure to meet these challenges.
As the aviation market changes one of the major challenges will be how to make services and infrastructure more adaptive and responsive. The challenge is that whilst operational efficiency is critical, as aviation companies are required to do more (or the same) with less , they still have to deploy cost based initiatives that generate clear and quick savings in capital and operational expenditure.
I was therefore recently intrigued to read a NATS Blog which posed the question
Is this the end for the air traffic control tower?
The article was referring to the advent of “remote control" towers potentially replacing the traditional manned iconic tower we all see at many airports around the world. It posed the question could new technology mean its days are numbered?
“The introduction of remote control towers is one of the most exciting technological developments in the history of our industry. Alongside the advent of secondary radar and electronic flight strips, it could revolutionise the provision of air traffic services.
The idea of controllers using high definition cameras and remote sensing equipment to manage airport traffic from potentially hundreds or even thousands of miles away is a tantalising prospect.
For smaller airfields there are obvious cost saving benefits. Not only would a physical tower no longer need to be constantly manned and maintained, a remote tower could potentially provide a service to entire groups of small airfields, offering economies of scale that might make the difference between an airport staying open or closing.
This is exactly what’s about to start happening in Sweden, where two small airfields with low levels of traffic are to receive regulatory approval for ‘remote control’ this autumn.
For larger airports there are more challenges, but nothing insurmountable. Cameras would have to be well located and probably at a height comparable to a control tower itself. However, moving to a remote system would free up valuable airport real estate, while negating the need for an iconic – and therefore expensive – building.
There are potential safety and resilience benefits to consider too. Using cameras and screens means you are no longer limited by what the human eye can physically see out of the window. An augmented reality HUD would put vital operational information right in front of the controller, overlaid on the aircraft and airport itself in real-time. Infrared cameras could help cut through light fog, while a Google Glass type interface might one day even present specific data to individual controllers”.
I see this as a great example of the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT). The connected airport and the remote control tower – all enabled by the IoT.
Not only are airports, airlines, people and associated infrastructures becoming more connected so are the devices, systems and information needed to facilitate these connections. We are seeing everyday consumer devices and business assets becoming capable of communicating using sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects – from runways and buildings to CCTV, baggage systems and vehicles. All potentially linked, wired or wireless via networks that can connect to the internet.
This new connected IoT world supported by new commercial models for data storage, integration and visualisation could see the remote control tower become a reality.
It’s no wonder that more and more airports and transportation organisations are looking to transition from the data operations of the past 20 years to the data structure of the future that enables them to bridge the “connected” information gap between data and timely relevant insight.
The IoT can:
- Transform scattered and disparate data operations, systems and devices into a supple, flexible whole and allow for new business models which are held back by capabilities often determined by the organisation’s software/hardware infrastructure and by investments that go back a decade or more.
- Allow an airport to take absolute advantage of current global technological and communication revolutions and move from a fragmented airport and become a connected airport.
- Create new analytical insight on aircraft, assets, people, things and data, and could support new processes and automation opportunities for departure gates, security, mobile, and check in.
So if the IoT would support the vision of a remote control tower bringing together normally fragmented process and siloed systems could this technology innovation also support a remote control airport?
This would see the process of your journey and that the associated supporting infrastructure being totally automated and integrated. From when one checks in online and gets a mobile boarding pass ,self-tags their bag through biometric enabled security and boarding , interactive way-finding giving you relevant offers on your way to the gate facilitated by iBeacons and ultimately connecting this seamlessly to airport assets and aircraft operations. So if one of these elements fails the airport can adapt and respond intelligently either fully autonomous or supported by remote agents. Many of these technologies exist today but many are not truly connected. This is where the IoT and CGI can help.
Although we are some way from a totally automated airport one can see the traditional models of airport infrastructure and traditional technology solutions need to be challenged to take advantage of a “connected” future.