Should we take a step-wise or big-bang approach to the remote multi-tower concept?

Written by: James Hanson
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Remote towers continue to generate lots of debate. A particularly interesting debate concerns the transition path to the multi-tower concept, as we recently discussed during a dedicated remote towers seminar at Helios' offices in Farnborough.

One the one hand, our industry is conservative and risk averse. We adopt change slowly. This school of thought favours a step-wise implementation path that begins with a single tower concept, replicating the existing tower operation using cameras and visual displays. The next stage is to gradually increase the complexity (traffic, service offered and/or system functionality) and then to move to a sequential 'switched' operation. Finally, only once we have built enough trust, we can move to the multi-tower concept.

A second school of thought considers that managing multiple airports in parallel is so radically different – a so-called 'disruptive innovation' – that we should instead take a big-bang view and avoid a step-wise approach that will only constrain or perhaps never reach the full potential of the multi-tower concept. It might also mean a quicker return on investment due to the more cost-beneficial nature of the multi-tower concept.

In the big-bang approach, we might even question whether an out-the-window view is actually the best way to provide situational awareness across multiple environments. LVP and tools such as A-SMGCS have already proven that tower operations at airports can be safely handled without the out-the-window view. The contingency tower at Heathrow for example is able to handle up to 70% of traffic. Area Control Centres already safely replicate '3D' operations on a 2D screen, so perhaps it would be even easier/safer to replicate '2D' (ie no vertical separation) tower operations on a 2D screen, rather than try to synthesise a 3D environment?

It might also give us the opportunity to address more creatively human performance issues associated with multi-tower operations, such as attention tunnelling, mode errors and the loss of natural cues.

Whichever way we get there, multi-tower is a new concept that will take time to realise, and the way we currently envisage using the technology will undoubtedly change by the time we get there – at least modern software makes that a lot easier to deal with! In the end it will come down to the users, so perhaps the real question is under what circumstances would a controller favour a big-bang approach compared to an incremental evolution?

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James Hanson
Tel: +44 1252 451 651

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