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Progress noted in remote air traffic control tower test

A testing regime leading to the introduction of remote air traffic control tower technology at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado, will be moving toward a data-collection and evaluation phase this spring.

The Colorado Remote Tower Project control room. Photo courtesy of Northern Colorado Regional Airport.

The nontowered airport, which hosts charter service and a broad mix of aircraft, would be controlled remotely sometime before 2021 under the tentative four-phase schedule of testing and implementation now moving forward.

AOPA supports the testing, has participated in safety-evaluation panels, and believes the technology could make it possible for more airports to participate in the cost-efficient FAA Contract Tower Program.

The spring test phase will proceed with the airport under control of a mobile control tower while the remote tower functions in a passive mode to collect data on visual detection and recognition of aircraft and other operational information. That phase would follow preliminary “Phase 0” activities launched in October 2018 to optimize the system and assess safety, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace, air traffic, and aviation security.

Rick Koller, program manager for Searidge Technologies, the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada-based service provider, credited an extended team including the Colorado Division of Aeronautics, the FAA, the airport, industry partners, and local contractors, with meeting the scheduled target dates so far. “With our first Safety Risk Management Panel underway in December, and as we work to optimize the system through the New Year, Searidge is excited to be advancing toward Phase 1 passive evaluations in early Spring,” he said in a December email.

As the program moves through its phases, notices to airmen and a Letter to Airmen from ATC will keep pilots updated on airspace status and operational effects.

Duke reminded pilots to comply with a regulation covering operations in Class E airspace that requires pilots to contact the operating control tower when within four nautical miles, and up to and including 2,500 feet agl of the airport.

Look for more airports to be transformed by remote-tower technology worldwide. On Dec. 4, 2018, air traffic controllers from DFS, a German air navigation service provider, began controlling traffic at Saarbrücken Airport from a site 450 kilometers away in Leipzig.

“A Luxair regional airliner was the first aircraft whose landing was controlled from the DFS Remote Tower Control Centre,” DFS said in a news release. After a four-week introductory phase, the remote tower would “become part of regular operations,” it said.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Flight Planning

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