Into the age of remote monitoring
In the future, many of the world’s ports and air traffic control towers will be managed remotely using an enhanced central monitoring system, streamlining logistics and traffic flows in the air and on the ground. Saab’s state-of the-art sensor technology is already bringing a digital solution to the most advanced marine and air traffic operations.
In the busy waters of Hong Kong, where massive container ships share limited space with countless ferries and fishing boats, tracking traffic and maintaining safety is key. Not to mention the fact that the area is dotted with hundreds of islands, which add to the challenge of gaining a clear operational overview.
However, with Hong Kong’s acquisition of Saab’s maritime traffic management system (MTM), operators working for the Marine Department can monitor the complex shipping scenario closely in real time and provide valuable vessel traffic services. The MTM has also enabled the management of a greater shipping capacity at a lower cost.
The MTM allows the entire logistics chain to be planned in detail – from the time of a container vessel’s arrival at Victoria Harbour, for example, to the piloting, towing and unloading of cargo onto trains and trucks, to the ship’s eventual departure.
The advance planning of a ship’s route and speed allows for its timely arrival while reducing fuel costs and emissions in the process. Saab’s software solutions are used in harbours and by coastguards throughout the world, as well as by pilot vessels and dredging ships, and during oil pipeline inspections and underwater wreck surveys.
The advanced multi-sensor data fusion and display processing involved in the MTM system are similar to Saab’s air traffic management solutions (ATM).
Reasons for a remote tower
With air traffic control costs often accounting for 30-40 per cent of operating expenses, small airports in the sparsely populated areas of the world have insufficient capacity to justify having their own air traffic control tower. Many are threatened with closure. The growing need for cost efficiency inspired Saab and the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration (Luftfartsverket or LFV) to join forces in 2006 to find a more efficient way of handling air traffic management in Sweden.
After 10 years of intensive development work, they became the first in the world to put remote air traffic control towers into operation. In Sweden, air traffic control systems at two provincial airports, Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall-Timrå, have been transformed through the use of remote technology. Since 2015, Örnsköldsvik airport has been controlled by LFV at the Remote Tower Centre in Sundsvall 100 km away. Sundsvall-Timrå airport has been controlled at the same centre since 2016, with Linköping being added more recently.
Doing it digitally
Image monitoring is combined with other systems used to manage traffic such as radar display, navigation aids and information about flight plans and weather conditions. Digital screens can display everything from the weather and visibility conditions to the identity of aircraft and ground vehicles.
Infrared cameras provide better night vision, advanced image processing can detect dangers or obstacles such as tools left on the runway, while target tracking technology using radar and cameras can automatically detect and highlight incoming aircraft making it easy to monitor them.
Images are adjusted automatically in direct sunlight or snow glare so that an ascending aircraft can be followed without being dazzled. It is also possible to zoom in and pick out details.
LFV has now picked Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions to provide the second generation of remote digital air traffic control to the airports serving Östersund, Umeå, Kiruna and Malmö.
Taking the technology further afield
Testing had been carried out at a facility in Malmö to monitor the airport in Ängleholm 100 km to the north, with air traffic controllers providing feedback on the engineers’ design.
At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport a camera system has now been installed to monitor a runway that cannot be seen from the air traffic control tower.
Test installations have also been run in the USA, the Netherlands, Ireland and Australia, where images were sent from the airport in Alice Springs to air traffic controllers in Adelaide over 1,500 km away.
These solutions would clearly enhance safety at the many airports in the world that do not have their own air traffic control tower. Watch this space.