Bringing remote towers closer

Written by: James Hanson
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Bringing remote towers closer

The spectacular Lofoten mountains provide a stunning backdrop to Væroy heliport in Norway, operated by Avinor, the Norwegian ANSP. Thanks to the newly installed remote tower equipment, this view can now be admired, 80km away, from the "out the window" view at the remote tower facility in Bodø. The availability of high quality screens, improved communications, and above all the ambition to find solutions to cut the costs of tower services have come together to create one of the most talked about game-changers in the industry – remote towers.

Avinor sensibly started with a flight information service at a single aerodrome to gain some experience in the new concept and technology through their SESAR involvement. Helios' role was to develop the safety case as part of a safety framework contract we have with Avinor. Our approach focused attention initially around the new concept as a whole before drilling down into specific potential failures, gaining useful operator insight into key safety concerns (information which is difficult to obtain through the rigid structure of some industry standard safety methodologies).

The 'single mode' (or '1:1' model) of operating one airport from one remote tower offers limited cost savings. There is therefore a strong desire to implement the 'multiple' or 'switched' modes that enable operation of more than one airport with a single operator, delivering the positive business case that ANSPs need.

So Helios is now engaged in a much more ambitious phase of the project to develop safety and performance requirements that could enable up to 15 airports in Norway to be operated via Avinor's remote tower technology. There's no easy or quick path to take this new technology through the rigorous approval process of cautious regulators.

With this in mind, Helios has worked closely with the Avinor team to integrate safety into the heart of their vision from the very outset. Initial safety workshops provided valuable input to help shape the operational concept. Subsequent workshops have played a role in the system design. This helps to minimise the risk of future validation work raising safety concerns that could have been fixed at lower cost, had they been identified earlier.

Throughout the work, questions have arisen that demonstrate the value of a collaborative approach bringing together operational experts, technical staff, human factors specialists, validation teams and safety experts. Many of these questions have never been asked before, let alone solved, so the knowledge and experience gained is invaluable.

For example:

  • How long does it take an operator to gain situational awareness when shifting attention to a new aerodrome?
  • What is the best way for one operator to manage simultaneous arrivals at different airports?

The safety and human factors work are intrinsically linked and human factors expertise was provided by Egis. The close cooperation between us all has enabled Avinor to achieve an operationally driven concept with a validation plan that addresses safety and human factors issues and accommodates an evolving concept.

For further information contact James Hanson. To find out more about remote towers, come and hear James speak at World ATM Congress in Madrid.

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