Remote air traffic controllers a possibility in India

India is considering setting up remote air traffic control (ATC) towers to cut costs and overcome labour shortages. Remote monitoring will allow traditional concrete control towers to be replaced with dozens of high resolution, infra-red cameras around runways that feed live images to screens in buildings far from the airport. The technology will enable flights at multiple airports to be monitored from one location, reducing the need for air traffic controllers and physical towers at every airport.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has initiated a study on remote monitoring of flights, with a recommendation expected in September, one of the sources said. A decision to proceed could be a boost to companies like Sweden’s Saab and Canada-based Searidge Technologies that are already in talks with the airport regulator to bring the technology to India.

Regulations

The AAI is working with India’s aviation safety watchdog, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on the study and has sought information from countries where remote towers are in use, one source said.

The plan hinges on the DGCA’s approval, because remote tower technology is not standardised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which is still drawing up regulations. In the meantime, countries follow their own safety guidelines.

Challenges

The bigger concern, however, is the transfer of data from the airport to the remote tower. An ATC official at India’s airport regulator said they are yet to understand how the data transfer will work, what medium will be used and what the backup will be. “If the (data transfer) medium goes blank, the airport will be cut off,” said the official, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Controllers would also need to be trained to recognise and adapt to local conditions, including weather and topography, of multiple airports instead of just one, the source added.

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