Imagine an air traffic control tower without anyone inside. The Air Force and Navy are preparing to test out "remote control tower" technology, allowing one person to monitor air space from hundreds of miles away.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, eyes are kept to the sky and on radar at Tinker Air Force Base. Air traffic controllers manage fleet on the ground and up above. The remote tower technology could be the next big thing.
Edgar Wright, who leads the Flight Standards Agency for the Air Force, said, “Remote tower technology is not really new to the industry. It has actually been used for the last eight to ten years.”
Here’s how it works. An array of cameras sit high above an airfield, feeding into a control room full of monitors, possibly hundreds of miles away. It’s a view almost like you’re looking out a window.
The Air Force will oversee the $8 million project that is already scheduled for Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida.
Liliana Urrego, Air Field Operations Requirements Manager, said, “We will have the capability to tag aircraft that might be too small to see to the human eye.”
Wright added, “Also, it has infrared capabilities to see any type of activity that may be generating heat like animal life, humans, vehicles that could cause runway intrusions.”
Not only are remote towers cheaper, mobile versions are available. The military plans to test them out.
“Deploying the cameras would be a much smaller airlift footprint, and it would have additional savings in terms of having to transport the system to a remote location,” said Wright.
Safety is a major factor. A system like this could keep air traffic controllers in a military situation, far away from combat.
Wright said, “You have the capability where you could be providing air traffic control tower services to multiple airports from one location.”
While a major purchase is unlikely anytime soon, minds are open to what could be the future of aviation.
“It is very beneficial to both the controllers and to the aircraft to have the capability that actually improves the alertness and the vision of the controllers,” said Wright.
The fixed version of the remote tower technology will begin next March at Homestead Air Reserve Base. Testing for the mobile version begins this month.