Editor’s Note: This post contains links to online documents, which you might want to save a copy of for future reference.
Once the medium up/downs are split, and the Approach function is on the way to being combined at the Metroplex, what’s going to happen to the network of small, distributed towers that have been contracted out? How will Big Industry profit from RVA and Midwest ATC having those contracts?
Let’s talk about “virtual towers”. If you’d prefer, just go to Google and search on “SVT Staffed Virtual Tower“. Look at the results, and look at the dates of the documents that Google refers you to. Then come back and let’s talk. Or, look at the official list of acronyms and check out SVT.
In their March 2008 newsletter (almost two years ago), the Reason Foundation wrote about research done in Atlantic City with staffed virtual towers. The Reason Foundation wrote glowingly about this essential NextGen development that increases airport efficiency.
In their Jan-Feb 2008 webpage update, the Volpe Center conveyed this:
The Volpe Center produced a working prototype for managing terminal area air traffic based on existing tower display systems. The electronic systems that functionally replace the out-the-window view must be as accurate, reliable, and intuitive as the visual depiction currently available. Human factors specialists, working with a team of engineers and air traffic controllers, were able to incorporate human systems integration best practices in developing this prototype display. The resulting system was proven to be effective and easy to use in simulations, and controllers preferred it to the conventional tower cab view.
There’s a gentleman named Todd Kilbourne, and his LinkedIn CV includes this little nugget for what he did in 2005-2007:
Provided systems engineering support to several projects within Technology Development such as the Staffed Virtual Tower (SVT). Acted as test coordinator in the tower for the SVT Demo at Spokane International Airport.
An academic paper (pdf) published in Sept. 2006 contains this:
Additionally, using video cameras and advanced sensors, the Test Bed will help determine how best to enable the local control of airports from remote locations rather than from a traditional, expensive air traffic control tower. Obstructions on a runway such as deer or debris, the sequencing of arriving aircraft, and clearance for aircraft to takeoff are all examples of functions performed today at an airport tower that in the future could be performed from a remote centralized or regional location. This emerging concept is called Staffed Virtual Tower (SVT).
This link from Sensis includes:
Sensis and the NASA Glenn Research Center are developing a prototype display that will replace the out-the-window view from a conventional air traffic control tower. The SVT can be located at the airport to cover areas that are partially obscured from the conventional tower, or at a remote location to provide cost-efficient and operationally effective means of directing air traffic.
This is a link to an interesting PDF. Go to page 61 of 105, and you’ll see this text:
Tower services may be provided remotely from a location away from at the aerodrome. These Staffed Virtual Towers, (SVTs) provide services similar to existing towered aerodromes. Reliable surface surveillance of all aircraft and vehicles, monitoring of environmental conditions, and robust procedures will help this occur safely. The benefits of SVT operations include the provision of tower services to a larger number of aerodromes than is provided today, significantly reduced physical infrastructure costs, and the potential for ANSP personnel to service multiple airfields from a single physical location. Because more aerodromes will have sequencing and separation services, the system is capable of additional throughput compared to one-in-one-out operations at non-towered aerodromes today. In addition, SVTs provide productivity gains when compared with the number of personnel required if services are provided from physical towers at all locations. Consolidating staffed tower operations from multiple aerodromes and within aerodromes into a single staffed virtual tower during periods of lower demand—most likely at night—will also result in productivity gains.
I”m sorry to include excerpts from so many other sources, but I think it’s important to show that this is a pervasive project that’s been going on for several years – since the Bush administration, to be specific. Here’s a link, and on page 63 you’ll find this text:
All air traffic facilities benefit from scheduling and workforce management improvements. Staffed virtual towers (SVT) allow ANSP personnel to service multiple airfields from a single physical location. The ability to use SVTs enables airports to receive tower services that would not normally receive services given the criteria for today and costs of building a tower. In addition, automated virtual towers (AVT) are an innovative way to provide new services in an affordable way where service delivery was not practical before. AVTs are beneficial for smaller towered airports or SVT airports to continue providing existing services during off hours at reduced staffing costs. A voice interface ensures that minimally equipped aircraft receive service.
You just knew that after all that talk about “staffed virtual towers” that there was an “automated virtual tower” hiding in the weeds somewhere.
Here’s a link to a fascinating page from Dr. Todd Truitt, who’s developed the Tower Operations and Digital Data System (TODDS). I like him already, because he’s managed to call his software TODDS and his name is: Todd.
Take a look at that page, and you’ll read about how difficult it is to be in a tower, look out the windows, look at strips and scopes and correlate all that information. Dr. Truitt’s going to solve that by putting it all on one screen for you. Here’s a powerpoint by Dr. Truitt, it’s 25 pages and you should see every one of them, because that’s where the profession is going.
Here’s an official page that talks about “staffed virtual towers” and provides a timeline for implementation starting in 2012.
Here’s an official US government powerpoint from 2006, see pages 15 and 22. The money shot is on page 43, in the timeline for the year 2020:
●Tower functions at all but high capacity airports are remoted (virtual towers)
● Terminal facilities are combined and reduced to 30-55 facilities
I’d like to point out that they were doing this in 2006, 2007, and 2008. What were we paying attention to during that timeframe?
I’m going to quote my favorite blogger (and I hope he doesn’t mind, because I have great respect for him): Are you getting the flick yet?
What astounds me is that they’re publishing these official documents with timelines, and they’re spending large budgets on development projects with contractors, and yet they’re not talking with their controllers about this.