FLL needs to maximize its capacity
Shadows limits Efficiency from Tower
Virtual Reality systems sees the Blind Spots
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has reached most of its potential expansion within its land mass. Its future capacity is defined by the runways and taxiways already in use at FLL. Thus, it is compelled to maximize its existing plant and that makes efficient flow among the gates and runways. The FLL ATC tower is a 7,200 square-foot structure with a 525-square-foot tower cab atop its 117 feet tall. The configuration of the terminals gates creates visual shadows for the ground controllers. Those blind spots hinder the movement of the aircraft as they move on the taxiways and tarmac.
Solution? A much taller tower—incredibly costly and probably requiring construction at another site. Duplication of capital costs is not encouraged.
The next option is technology. Virtual Ramp Control (VRC) allows the controller to see virtually everywhere without the traditional line-of-sight from a tower. At FLL, almost 50 closed-circuit, high-definition video and infrared cameras are placed around the tarmacs and taxiways. It allows controllers to see aircraft in any kind of weather, day and night, and move them from gate to gate faster. Created by Amadeus IT Group SA, the integration of all the images and traffic information is collected at a windowless ground control facility.
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Through VRC, the controllers see all of the areas marked in green. “They have 100 percent view at this point,” said Jeff Shull, with Amadeus. “You have no blind spots.” “They control when the aircraft pushes back [from the gate], when an aircraft comes off a taxiway going to a gate [and] aircraft transitioning from one gate to another,” said Michael Nonnemacher, Broward County Aviation acting assistant director.
“It’s all done by radar and augmented by a system of CCTV and infrared cameras.” A new computer system takes the data from those cameras, and other sensors, and stitches it together into one giant virtual vista.
Controllers sit in front of a video wall, which shows them what’s happening in real time. The infrared images offer improved visibility at night and in the fog. Wearing headsets, they calmly issue cryptic sounding instructions to pilots, and then track the plane moving. It’s the first of its kind in the US and could set the bar for other airports around the country.
The program is still being evaluated; so, it is premature to jump to any conclusions. However, it is appropriate to speculate with “what if’s”. The ability to transfer the information required to control ground traffic could be applied
- at other airports with existing shadows
- to avoid constructing a new ATCT to a higher (read more expensive to build and maintain) level
- if VRC works for ground control,
- might it be applied for arrivals/departures?
- Using the screens to control the three dimensions of flight obviously poses even more of a technological challenge at airfields, but consolidating facilities hold the potential to substantially lower capital and operational facilities.
- The ability to provide images in all weathers might make VRC useful for airports with adverse meteorological conditions.
- En route controllers do not use visual reference for their work; so, the VRC has more obvious applicability.
The FLL test case should be carefully observed. The haunting sounds and words of David Bowie’s 1969 Space Oddity
Ground Control to Major Tom Ground Control to Major Tom Take your protein pills and put your helmet on Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six) Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three) Check ignition and may God's love be with you (two, one, liftoff) This is Ground Control to Major Tom You've really made the grade And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare "This is Major Tom to Ground Control I'm stepping through the door And I'm floating in a most peculiar way And the stars look very different today For here Am I sitting in a tin can Far above the world Planet Earth is blue And there's nothing I can do Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles I'm feeling very still And I think my spaceship knows which way to go Tell my wife I love her very much she knows Ground Control to Major Tom Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you "Here am I floating 'round my tin can Far above the moon Planet Earth is blue And there's nothing I can do"
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