US DOT OIG says Contract Towers are safe and efficient
Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions successfully installs digital, remote towers
Time to define their roles?
For at least eleven times in the past eight years the articles about contract towers (safe and efficient) and digital remote towers (efficient, safe) have appeared concurrently in the trade press. The twelfth dual reoccurrence is included below.
Contract Towers (CT) and Digital Towers (DT) provide alternatives to the federal towers with live controllers. They have been used at low to medium volume airports. It may be possible that CT and DT could handle more demanding flight levels.
The technologies may not necessarily antithetical; DT and CT could be complimentary methods of controlling planes; or they might be deployed for different segments of use. It might be best to make a conscious decision to differentiate what might be the best deployment.
The Contract Tower program is growing, as noted, in the OIG report. DT installations are also actively being deployed.The approaches The policy decisions, repeatedly raised below, should be made by the FAA. Déjà vu all over again.
OIG REPORT: UNANSWERED PUBLIC POLICY QUESTION—WHY DOES THE CONTRACT TOWER PROGRAM APPEAR TO DO SO WELL?
A key U.S. government watchdog gave a strong endorsement to the FAA’s Contract Tower Program, finding that those facilities are more cost-effective and have similar safety records as similar federal towers. The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the program at the behest of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its aviation subcommittee, which have kept a careful watch over the facilities after the FAA attempted to shutter 149 of them earlier this decade when the agency was facing sequestration budget cuts.
Since that time, though, Congress has ensured funding for the program and it has flourished with about 250 towers now managing about 28 percent of the nation’s ATC operations. The program received a boost in 2017 when the FAA began permitting new and replacement towers built by airport sponsors to join the program. Participating towers typically are at airports with lower-level activity.
The OIG compared these towers with similar federal facilities and found between 2015 and 2018, on average, contract towers used at least 47.6 percent fewer resources. These towers also had fewer safety events per aircraft, but the OIG cautioned, “We do not believe the difference between these numbers and those of FAA’s towers is meaningful because, among other reasons, the numbers of safety-related events across the NAS were very low relative to the total number of flights.”
When Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions (SDATS) was selected last month by the UK’s Royal Air Force to create a remote tower “operational concept demonstrator,” it was also exactly 100 years since the world’s first aerodrome control tower was established, at Croydon, south of London.
SDATS, the remote tower business Saab formed with the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration (LFV) in 2016, has been going from strength to strength, mainly in the civil airport world, but militaries have now started to see the advantages of applying new technology, saving costs while safely adding capabilities and reach.
Saab said the technology could “eventually change the way military ATC is conducted, both during normal operations and during times of increased threats.”
The system will be installed at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland for demonstration and evaluation during 2020 and 2021, said Saab.
“Saab’s Digital Tower demonstrator will enable us to explore how we could modernize our air traffic services fit for a next-generation air force,” said the chief of staff for capability, Air Vice-Marshal Simon Rochelle.
Magnus Lewis-Olsson, president of Saab Technologies UK Ltd, said, “We are delighted that the close collaboration between the RAF and Saab UK has resulted in this first contract for a Saab Digital Tower and I look forward to the next steps in the Air Force’s journey towards digital airfields.”
Per Ahl, CEO of Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, added, “We are proud to be trusted by the RAF to support their Digital Tower Operational Concept Demonstrator at Lossiemouth. [It is an] excellent opportunity for Saab to show how the RAF could benefit from the use of our digital tower system.”
The first airport to get a Saab digital tower was Örnsköldsvik Airport, in 2015—making it the first airport in the world to have remote air traffic control. Cranfield Airport was the first in the UK to operate the Saab system and London City Airport is also working to introduce Saab’s solution mainly as a back-up tower operation.
In addition, SDATS last year signed a 20-year framework agreement with LVNL, The Netherlands’ air traffic control organization, for remote tower systems. SDATS received an initial order within the framework contract to establish remote towers at Groningen and Maastricht, and a remote tower center at Schiphol Airport.
“This contract will be the first to cover a country-wide implementation. with our second-generation digital towers,” said Ahl.
Delivery to the Netherlands project will start in 2020 with initial operations to be started in 2021.
“Saab will support us in the further development of the system, safety analyses, and training courses for air traffic controllers”, said Hans-Peter Spies, general manager of the LVNL regional unit.
Sweden has also taken advantage of the home-grown success story. In December it inaugurated the first new airport in the country in 20 years at Scandinavian Mountains Airport in Sälen, with Saab providing the on-site camera tower. The Stockholm-based company is also providing ongoing digital ATC services for a period of 10 years from its remote tower center in Sundsvall.
The airport mainly serves the ski resorts in the Sälen/Trysil area during the winter season.
 The logo used on the cover page is actually the LFV ( Luftfartsverket ), head office in Norrköping. It is a state enterpriseShare this article: