I don’t mean to bore the reader by repeating content verbatim from official websites, but I’d like to point out what these official sources are documenting – there is a budgeted, scheduled, approved plan to split facilities, relocate Approach controls, and replace the on-site tower with an offsite virtual tower.
When I read media coverage of what’s happening in Ohio – in CLE, CAK, YNG, MFD, TOL, CMH, DAY – the focus seems to start and stop at relocating the Approach Control. At the risk of sounding strident, I’d like to repeat that’s only the first part of the issue – the rest is the removal of the tower to a remote virtual operation, resulting in the complete absence of ATC on the airport. That’s a big thing.
Virtual Towers Defined
At the bottom of the page we see that this page was created on 01-Jul-2009, and most recently updated on 28-Jan-2010. The text is included below, with emphasis added:
Remotely Staffed Towers provide ATM services for operations into and out of designated airports without physically constructing, equipping, and/or sustaining tower facilities at these airports. Instead of out-the-window visual surveillance, controllers maintain situational awareness provided by surface surveillance displayed on an ANSP display system and a suite of decision support tools using aircraft-derived data.Weather, traffic and other relevant information are displayed on the ANSP display system to avoid discontinuities associated with the mix of heads-up versus heads-down operations.
With the deployment of Remotely Staffed Towers, ANSP personnel may be able to service multiple airfields from a single physical location allowing for reductions in the total number of service delivery points. This accommodates managing increases in life cycle costs to sustain, expand, and improve services in response to steadily increasing demand.
In the end-state Remotely Staffed Towers will provide advanced surface management. The ANSP personnel will have access to the necessary ground and terminal surveillance information and decision support tools to provide separation, sequencing, and spacing services. Decision support tools will assist ANSPs with planning taxi routes, and arrival and departure sequencing.
Clearance delivery and pushback into movement or non-movement areas is accomplished by voice and/or data communications to the aircraft, aided by situational awareness derived from surveillance sensors and conformance monitoring tools presented directly on the ANSP display. Some separation responsibility and some traffic synchronization responsibility are delegated to properly equipped aircraft.
To improve common situational awareness, weather, traffic management initiatives, and flight plan data are available to ANSPs and flight operators via net-centric information capabilities. Weather data is distributed to and from aircraft using digital communications and will conform to the NextGen Network Enabled Weather (NNEW) concept. Special airport sensors detect runway hazards at the airport and automatically alert controllers and pilots of the hazard via voice and/or Data Comm.
There’s more: Automated Virtual Towers Defined
This link opens the official definition of Automated Virtual Towers. The footnotes indicate that the page was created on 01-Jul-2009, and updated on 28-Jan-2010. The text of the page follows, with emphasis added:
Throughput at low- to moderate-demand airports (when tower is non-operational) and non-towered airports is increased through the use of automated tower services.
The automation provides a variety of services from sequencing and basic airport information to limited separation management. IFR throughput (in both IMC and VMC) is increased through utilization of both ground and air surveillance systems and by exploiting available aircraft capabilities. Airport complexity and demand as well as customers’ needs and capabilities are carefully determined, then appropriate levels of automation and modes of communication are installed to maximize capacity while still meeting cost/benefit and safety analyses. An automated voice interface ensures that minimally equipped aircraft receive service.