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Remote tower testing to resume in Leesburg

A mobile control tower that has been in testing since last fall to evaluate remote air traffic control technology at Virginia’s Leesburg Executive Airport will begin working directly with arriving and departing aircraft this summer.

The airport will be under the control of the mobile air traffic control tower daily from June 5 through Aug. 12 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and from Aug. 13 to Sept. 8 from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m..

AOPA participated with the FAA and the National Business Aviation Association in a safety assessment of last year’s testing of Saab Sensis’s remote air traffic control system that uses cameras mounted on top of the airport terminal to give controllers a clear 360-degree view of the airport.

Leesburg is the first test site for the system. FAA evaluation of the technology could eventually lead to the establishment of remote tower services at the airport.

As a backup measure, a temporary control tower from which controllers can directly view the airport and vicinity will be staffed and ready to take over during operations of the remote tower, which controllers will use to monitor the traffic they are controlling on a computer screen. The redundancy is intended to make the remote-tower testing transparent to pilots.

As part of the remote tower’s evaluation plan, test aircraft will conduct traffic-pattern operations while the remote tower is controlling traffic.

Pilots are encouraged to check notices to airmen frequently, and to consider the Leesburg Maneuvering Area equivalent to Class D airspace during operations of the remote air traffic control tower.

Two−way radio communications will be required.  When the remote tower is active, arriving VFR aircraft should contact Leesburg Tower on the local frequency prior to entering the airspace designated as the Leesburg Airport Traffic Area.  Arriving IFR aircraft should contact Leesburg Tower as directed by Potomac Approach.  The conditions of the Leesburg Maneuvering Area stated in the current Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) notam remain in effect.

Pilots should also be alert for changes in the Washington D.C. SFRA procedures for the Leesburg Maneuvering Area when the tower is active.

A remote control tower is less costly to build and maintain than a traditional tower. The technology is designed to allow air traffic controllers to work either at the airport or from a remote location.

An additional benefit of a remote tower in Leesburg would be enhanced security, with the tower and the National Capital Region Coordination Center working together to identify aircraft that inadvertently cross the SFRA boundaries during arrivals or departures, Saab Sensis said.

AOPA has been involved with the FAA’s evaluation of the remote tower technology because the technology is seen primarily as a tool for controlling traffic at general aviation airports.

“AOPA is collaborating with the FAA and other industry stakeholders on the requirements for operational approval of remote tower technology, and on how the towers can be integrated into our airspace and airport system,” said Rune Duke, AOPA director of government affairs for airspace and air traffic. “AOPA will continue advocating for air traffic solutions that provide as good or better service to pilots and are cost effective.”

The FAA also solicited proposals for a remote tower in Fort Collins, Colorado, closing the process in March. The agency is now in the process of selecting a vendor for that facility.

 The FAA will host a town hall meeting on the new procedures at Leesburg Executive Airport on May 25. Pilots may register online for the session.

AOPA ePublishing staff
AOPA ePublishing Staff editors are experienced pilots, flight instructors, and aircraft owners who have a passion for bringing you the latest news and AOPA announcements.

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