Remote towers - doomed?

Half Fast

Touchdown! Greaser!
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Half Fast
A little over a year ago, residents of KGIF (Winter Haven, FL) were informed that a remote tower was planned for the airport. There was a POA discussion here:


Well, now I'm beginning to wonder whether that project may be doomed. A couple of days ago I ran across the attached letter from the FAA. It seems the FAA has closed two remote towers and will now require all vendors wishing to market towers to have their systems certified in Atlantic City, NJ. Particularly worrisome is this paragraph from the letter:

The process for a vendor to obtain SDA is outlined in the FAA’s draft Remote Tower Advisory
long and rigorous process that can take upwards of five years to complete. If a vendor system
obtains SDA, the system will be added to a Qualified Vendor System List. Only then can
sponsors of candidate airports purchase an remote tower system for the purpose of providing air
traffic control tower services at their individual airport.

It seems that the FAA is changing the rules as they go, which has prompted Saab (provider of the Leesburg tower) to withdraw after having invested significant funds.

I hope I'm wrong, but it looks to me as though the FAA is squashing remote towers while paying lip service to the Congressional mandate to develop them. I've emailed KGIF to see what they know, and whether the airport's tower project is kaput.

C'est la FAA.

Anybody have any info about the situation?
 

Attachments

  • Letter on Remote Towers to Airport Operators 8-29-2023 - Letter-on-Remote-Towers-to-Airport-Op...pdf
    78.9 KB · Views: 1
Congress should be facilitating answers for identified problems, not mandating how they are solved. There are a lot of dummies in those buildings, leave the problem solving to smarter people.
 
You hit it on the head.

Saab left Leesburg because the FAA kept moving the goalposts with no real plan to actually certify a system. Saab invested a ton of money in an empty endeavor (remember they are already operational in other countries).

Searidge is going through this in Colorado. Last I heard they wanted new cameras for better resolution.

Frequentis has kept themselves to the military and I've heard its going well.

The FAA is convinced they know best and have to reinvent the wheel anytime something touches the NAS. I wouldn't hold my breath on a remote tower, but the FAA is speeding up the drone certification process (but drones generate money).

Last time I looked at the stalled FAA reauthorization, there was another line item to continue studying remote towers and write reports. What the hell, I got time...

Another 1 year study, 1 year after that they need to have a certification process in place. Subject to the authorization being passed and any further changes...​
 
I can't wait to key tower freq from 10 out and get the indian call center. "Please to be joining the downwindow on the left, kindly revert when within the 2 miles"
If they ask you to install unfamiliar software on your navigation equipment, watch out! :oops:
 
I think the concept is ridiculous. If traffic warrants a control tower, then they should set up and staff a control tower. Existing control towers have been proven useful at reducing collisions. I don't believe that can be said about these remote towers.
Jon
 
Max Trescott and Rob Mark discussed this in depth on Max's last "aviation news talk" podcast. One of the last bits of info they shared is that Lockheed is teaming up with a European company to install a system...in Atlantic City.... Can't help but wonder if good old Lockmart knew better about which palms needed greased to "win" the competition.

They also brought up that approving remote towers will make funding for new actual control towers harder to come by, which is less pork for the politicians to bring home. The there's all the union construction jobs to consider....

I don't care that much either way. My experience with SPI/PIA approach merging into STL has been that the more local the controllers are the better. OTOH, if a remote tower could make it feasible to convert some of these busy Class E airports into class D's, I'd be in favor of that.
 
Max Trescott and Rob Mark discussed this in depth on Max's last "aviation news talk" podcast. One of the last bits of info they shared is that Lockheed is teaming up with a European company to install a system...in Atlantic City.... Can't help but wonder if good old Lockmart knew better about which palms needed greased to "win" the competition.

They also brought up that approving remote towers will make funding for new actual control towers harder to come by, which is less pork for the politicians to bring home. The there's all the union construction jobs to consider....

I don't care that much either way. My experience with SPI/PIA approach merging into STL has been that the more local the controllers are the better. OTOH, if a remote tower could make it feasible to convert some of these busy Class E airports into class D's, I'd be in favor of that.


Raytheon, not Lockheed.
 
I think the concept is ridiculous. If traffic warrants a control tower, then they should set up and staff a control tower. Existing control towers have been proven useful at reducing collisions. I don't believe that can be said about these remote towers.
Jon


Remote towers have been proven to work well in Europe, and two remote towers in the US performed well for 5 years before the FAA shut them down. The cameras see better in fog and darkness than the human eye and cameras can be zoomed when necessary, better than a human using binoculars. The controlling is still done by ATC personnel; the tower merely substitutes screens for windows, so the controllers can be located anywhere.

Remote towers are simpler and cheaper to construct than traditional towers and offer flexibility.
 
Remote towers have been proven to work well in Europe, and two remote towers in the US performed well for 5 years before the FAA shut them down. The cameras see better in fog and darkness than the human eye and cameras can be zoomed when necessary, better than a human using binoculars. The controlling is still done by ATC personnel; the tower merely substitutes screens for windows, so the controllers can be located anywhere.

Remote towers are simpler and cheaper to construct than traditional towers and offer flexibility.

The processing and object recognition tools are fascinating. Warnings when something is on the runway, night vision, thermal vision, data blocks on aircraft in the screen, etc.

I dont expect they will replace really busy towers for some time - but they have a lot of advantages for the lower end of complexity and operations.
 
Exactly.

For smaller class Deltas with limited personnel, the augmentation from the system can be a big help.
 
The processing and object recognition tools are fascinating. Warnings when something is on the runway, night vision, thermal vision, data blocks on aircraft in the screen, etc.

I dont expect they will replace really busy towers for some time - but they have a lot of advantages for the lower end of complexity and operations.
Not to mention the elimination of blind spots since adding additional "tower" camera locations on the airfield is fairly trivial compared to additional staffed towers.
 
Not to mention the elimination of blind spots since adding additional "tower" camera locations on the airfield is fairly trivial compared to additional staffed towers.

We have had some camera feeds in cabs for some time, but yes, a mast with multiple cameras and these capabilities is even more valuable.
 
Before the FAA killed it, the remote tower at KJYO worked pretty well.

But yeah, the FAA does not like change.
 
The processing and object recognition tools are fascinating. Warnings when something is on the runway, night vision, thermal vision, data blocks on aircraft in the screen, etc.

I dont expect they will replace really busy towers for some time - but they have a lot of advantages for the lower end of complexity and operations.
Where they can be very effective in efficiency is keeping the flow of IFR traffic moving. No more waiting for an arrival to cancel before letting a departure go or clearing the next arrival. The tower see's you land and bingo, launch the departure who may already be lined up and waiting for the runway to clear.
 
Max Trescott and Rob Mark discussed this in depth on Max's last "aviation news talk" podcast. One of the last bits of info they shared is that Lockheed is teaming up with a European company to install a system...in Atlantic City.... Can't help but wonder if good old Lockmart knew better about which palms needed greased to "win" the competition.

They also brought up that approving remote towers will make funding for new actual control towers harder to come by, which is less pork for the politicians to bring home. The there's all the union construction jobs to consider....

I don't care that much either way. My experience with SPI/PIA approach merging into STL has been that the more local the controllers are the better. OTOH, if a remote tower could make it feasible to convert some of these busy Class E airports into class D's, I'd be in favor of that.
SPI/PIA ??
 
The processing and object recognition tools are fascinating.

Exactly. Couple it with a few manual or ADSB inputs and the controller's job becomes easier and the pilot's job becomes safer.

Imagine being able to look out your "window" and each plane you see has a small box tagged to it that tells you N#, type, and squawk code. Imagine that box changes color when the plane has been cleared to land. Imagine you look out at the runway and see a red X on it when a plane is occupying it, and then the red X changes to a green dot when the runway clears. Imagine clicking on a plane and having a zoomed image appear on a separate "binocs" screen that tracks the plane, keeping it centered while zoomed.

And so on, and so on, and so on,....
 
Max Trescott and Rob Mark discussed this in depth on Max's last "aviation news talk" podcast. One of the last bits of info they shared is that Lockheed is teaming up with a European company to install a system...in Atlantic City.... Can't help but wonder if good old Lockmart knew better about which palms needed greased to "win" the competition.

They also brought up that approving remote towers will make funding for new actual control towers harder to come by, which is less pork for the politicians to bring home. The there's all the union construction jobs to consider....

I don't care that much either way. My experience with SPI/PIA approach merging into STL has been that the more local the controllers are the better. OTOH, if a remote tower could make it feasible to convert some of these busy Class E airports into class D's, I'd be in favor of that.
Atlantic City is where the FAA's Tech Center is.

There's a chance Frequentis will be successful that way, but I wouldn't hold my breath. The Tech Center is another black hole of good ideas. At least at the TC, there will be easy access to FAA folks (as opposed to Leesburg and Colorado).
 
Exactly. Couple it with a few manual or ADSB inputs and the controller's job becomes easier and the pilot's job becomes safer.

Imagine being able to look out your "window" and each plane you see has a small box tagged to it that tells you N#, type, and squawk code. Imagine that box changes color when the plane has been cleared to land. Imagine you look out at the runway and see a red X on it when a plane is occupying it, and then the red X changes to a green dot when the runway clears. Imagine clicking on a plane and having a zoomed image appear on a separate "binocs" screen that tracks the plane, keeping it centered while zoomed.

And so on, and so on, and so on,....
I've seen it all done overseas including vehicle and wildlife monitoring for runways as well. Getting the FAA's controller tools to that point is so far away it is laughable.

Electronic flight strips are still slowly rolling out to the big towers.

Follow the green lighting, stop bars, arrival and departure managers, CPDLC (one of the few the FAA has managed to do properly) - all great tech but so hard to make happen in the US.
 
all great tech but so hard to make happen in the US bureaucracy.

FIFY.

Getting the #%$^@ bureaucrats at the FAA to actually fix anything or implement new technology usually proceeds at a pace similar to a herd of turtles chasing a flock of snails across a field of peanut butter.
 
Exactly. Couple it with a few manual or ADSB inputs and the controller's job becomes easier and the pilot's job becomes safer.

Imagine being able to look out your "window" and each plane you see has a small box tagged to it that tells you N#, type, and squawk code. Imagine that box changes color when the plane has been cleared to land. Imagine you look out at the runway and see a red X on it when a plane is occupying it, and then the red X changes to a green dot when the runway clears. Imagine clicking on a plane and having a zoomed image appear on a separate "binocs" screen that tracks the plane, keeping it centered while zoomed.

And so on, and so on, and so on,....
Imagine when the screen goes dark and a "connection lost" message appears . . . :lol:
 
Imagine when the screen goes dark and a "connection lost" message appears . . . :lol:

"Tower Closed." Happens all the time with live towers, too. How often does fog or rain or smoke obscure vision out of conventional tower? But a dark screen might only close one particular zone.
 
"Tower Closed." Happens all the time with live towers, too. How often does fog or rain or smoke obscure vision out of conventional tower? But a dark screen might only close one particular zone.
I know, I was just playing the "imagine if" game with you!
 
Atlantic City is where the FAA's Tech Center is.

There's a chance Frequentis will be successful that way, but I wouldn't hold my breath. The Tech Center is another black hole of good ideas. At least at the TC, there will be easy access to FAA folks (as opposed to Leesburg and Colorado).
Leesburg isn’t far (30 miles ) from the FAA in DC or do you mean the only part that matters is tech center?
 
I forget where I read it, the analysis by a political pundit said the FAA killed off the existing remote towers for political reasons.

FAA spends a lot of money on ATC in remote locations which now have very low volumes. This is especially true related to places that used to have subsidized commercial air service which has significantly shrunk over the past few decades; however once the tower was established, it is almost impossible to close. As a result, there are estimates that roughly 80% of the existing towers do NOT have the volume and usage to justify their existence. The result is a there is a fear that many rural states would very quickly lose staffed towers if the remote tower concept gets certified.

Tim
 
KWVI Watsonville has all the technology & equipment installed to facilitate a remote tower. There is screen running in the terminal showing traffic from the system. We have an unusually busy airport on the weekends, and would benefit from a remote weekend tower IMHO.
 
KWVI Watsonville has all the technology & equipment installed to facilitate a remote tower. There is screen running in the terminal showing traffic from the system. We have an unusually busy airport on the weekends, and would benefit from a remote weekend tower IMHO.
Absolutely! Watsonville always seemed to be a magnet for stupid pilot tricks. I really don’t miss flying out of there.
 
Leesburg isn’t far (30 miles ) from the FAA in DC or do you mean the only part that matters is tech center?

Getting folks out of downtown to Leesburg is something that sounds easy and is a lot less likely to happen in practice - sure they can get people out there occasionally but not on a daily basis. The Tech Center is an entire facility of FAA people (and contractors) wandering around and working on new ideas and tech. I was just adding context to why a company is installing a system there.
 
KWVI Watsonville has all the technology & equipment installed to facilitate a remote tower. There is screen running in the terminal showing traffic from the system. We have an unusually busy airport on the weekends, and would benefit from a remote weekend tower IMHO.
Unlikely. A screen showing "traffic in the system", whatever that means, is not the 360° view from high definition cameras that are the heart of a remote tower system.
 
Unlikely. A screen showing "traffic in the system", whatever that means, is not the 360° view from high definition cameras that are the heart of a remote tower system.
It’s basically a FlightAware display on a bigscreen TV in the FBO lobby. It often lags several minutes behind, and doesn’t show aircraft that don’t have a transponder.
 
I heard back from the KGIF interim airport manager. Apparently he was unaware of what’s going on. He pinged the tower project manager and promised me a response next week.
 
Unlikely. A screen showing "traffic in the system", whatever that means, is not the 360° view from high definition cameras that are the heart of a remote tower system.

It’s basically a FlightAware display on a bigscreen TV in the FBO lobby. It often lags several minutes behind, and doesn’t show aircraft that don’t have a transponder.

The airport has the full system with the cameras, but only exposes part of the capability. It's how they were able to share the still image the airport release showing that dreadful mid-air, a split second before it happened.
 
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