The future of airports is digital

Saab’s Digital Tower Solution is the first remote and digital air traffic solution in operation in the world. But what does it mean for an airport to be remote and digital? And what difference can it make?

Once in a while, the dawn of a new era in transportation can be ascribed to a single time and place. In the world of air travel, such an event occurred on April 21, 2015 – at Örnsköldsvik in northern Sweden. To the many passengers passing through one of the country’s regional airports, this was a day like any other. But had they looked up at the control tower, they might have noticed something distinctly out of the ordinary: it was entirely unmanned.

In fact, this was the first time in history that a civil airport’s entire ground and approach operations had been controlled remotely – in this case, by controllers in Sundsvall Remote Tower Center some 150km away. On that cool, dry Tuesday, the airport in Örnsköldsvik truly entered the digital era – and next generation of air traffic control was born.

Saab is the first supplier in the world to offer a certified remote and digital air traffic management solution; to date, it has accumulated over 4000 hours in operation.  Market interest for Saab’s remote and digital solution is huge and it is currently being installed in countries including Sweden, the US, Ireland and the Netherlands.   

Airports across the world today are faced by the same challenge: to stay effective and competitive while at the same time ensuring the air traffic is managed safely and on time.  It goes without saying that safety is fundamental, and high quality air traffic control is the key to ensuring the aircraft are safely guided to their destinations. 

Enabling smaller airports to stay open

While many rural communities are dependent on small and remotely located airports for infrastructure and tourism industry, these airports face some challenges, such as retaining profitability with low numbers of take offs and landings. Carrying the cost of equipment, maintenance and development as well as staffing and staff training can be tough for airports with fewer flights, or airports that are seasonally operated, such as airports located near winter sport resorts.

Saab’s Remote Tower allows airports the possibility of digital air traffic control remotely. This means that a controller can be stationed in one airport and fully operate one or several other airports remotely, using technology such as video cameras, sensors and automation software.

‘By enabling air traffic controllers to manage multiple airports from one location we offer an on-demand service for air traffic control, which makes it more cost efficient, says Anders Carp, head of Saab’s business unit Traffic Management. ‘It will help small airports to stay open by simply increasing profitability. This a great example of how new, smart digital technologies can make a real difference by allowing communities to continue benefitting from these small and remotely located airports’.

Making larger airports more reliable

Going digital can also benefit larger airports by making them more reliable. The Digital Tower solution is ideal to support contingency planning for larger airports.

‘Our Digital Tower can be used as a valuable backup solution. The advantage is that it can be in place behind the scenes so the airport doesn’t lose efficiency or capacity by having a contingency solution in place’, Anders Carp says. ‘Of course this also means that the passengers will benefit since the airport becomes more reliable with lower risk of disruption.

Looking to the future, Saab’s digital tower solutions can also help make new airports possible since the possibilities for remote control make them much more economically viable.

Remote and digital solutions with cutting edge technology will facilitate the provision of a range of conventional digital air traffic services. Saab´s goal is to connect people and goods by making every airport in the world a safe, on-time flight away. The smart airport has arrived.