ALG remote tower

Remote towers: Finding the balance between benefits and costs

The remote tower concept continues to generate considerable enthusiasm in the sector, as was seen at the World ATM Congress that took place in Madrid earlier this year, where solutions offered by several manufacturers were on display. However, as the concept consolidates, local factors are still crucial to ensure a positive Business Case when considering such a solution. For this reason, investment decision-making needs to be supported by a detailed analysis of the benefits and costs on a case-by-case basis.

Remote Towers lead the trend of virtualization in Air Navigation Services

The remote tower concept introduces the possibility of providing aerodrome Air Traffic Services (ATS) or Flight Information Service (AFIS) from a remote location. Direct visual observation by personnel physically present at the aerodrome is replaced by cameras with an ‘Out-The-Window’ (OTW) view, adding information from other sources (when available) such as radar, infrared cameras and sensors, or other surveillance systems providing the positions of moving objects within the aerodrome’s movement area and its vicinity.

The business case rationale is based on lowering operating costs and capital costs

While there are several operational concepts at different levels of maturity (contingency tower, single remote tower, switching between towers, simultaneous multiple airports…), the current focus has mainly been on the advantages that remote towers can provide by reducing infrastructure & staff costs in airports (especially those with low traffic or in remote locations). For example, if operators are centralised to a single location, performance can potentially be optimized through increases in cost-efficiency and, in particular, productivity.

While the benefits in terms of cost savings seem clearly quantifiable (optimization of resources, reduction of infrastructure…), there are many variables to take into account which might slip under the radar, and the expected cost savings must be analysed in detail. For example, salaries are usually higher in urban areas, which can actually result in an increase in staff costs if controllers are shifted from remote/regional areas to a more metropolitan centre, despite the optimization measures that remote tower systems can enable. In the end, a positive business case might only be reached once the system is deployed in a number of locations, to compensate for the implementation costs, take advantage of the economies of scale and allow an extremely efficient re-arrangement of staff with a focus on productivity.

A detailed analysis of the benefits and costs on a case-by-case basis is crucial in order to support investment decision-making

The remote tower concept is very sensitive to local variables, which means a “one size fits all” approach should be avoided

The costs & benefits of remote tower systems have to be carefully analysed on a case by case basis, due to the many relevant local variables. The operational, technical, capacity, safety, social and regulatory aspects of applying these solutions should all be factored in, as well as the potential impact on performance through the definition and measurement of relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). All in all, positive Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) results can be achieved if the solution is implemented smartly and the benefits and costs are evaluated at local level. Additionally, it is important to highlight that remote solutions aren’t only about cost savings, and other potential benefits and costs (such as social impacts) have to be factored in. And finally it must be added that the potential for more advanced operational concepts (which are currently being defined and certified) should always be kept in mind, as these are expected to allow even greater efficiency in the future.

ALG is involved in the SESAR Business Case/CBA activities, in which the remote tower concept is considered an innovative and feasible solution. ALG has also studied the feasibility of implementing remote towers as an optimization measure for ANSPs.

About the authors
Rubén Martínez is MSc in Aeronautical Engineering and Director at ALG
Germán Ignacio Meyer is MSc in Telecommunications Engineering and Manager at ALG
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