PA’s Anders Adrem, aviation expert, explores the potential of remote air traffic control services and the benefits they could bring to rural communities.
Interest is growing in the aviation sector serving northern Sweden about the possibility of establishing a network of rapid air links. The ongoing work undertaken by Luftfartsverket and Swedavia which is recommending remote control of air traffic is the first step in the right direction. By using modern digital remote control towers, small airports may survive and provide the transport infrastructure to prevent the depopulation of rural areas. While high-speed railway is being intensively discussed, this is being targeted at southern parts of Sweden leaving the rest of the country without a viable solution as the population base is too small to justify high-speed trains. This creates a reason for investing in aviation infrastructure in the northern two-thirds of Swed
Luftfartsverket and Swedavia have recently announced that they will investigate whether air traffic in Malmo, Visby, Östersund, Umeå and Kiruna can be controlled remotely. This option would mean that air traffic control towers do not have to be staffed locally. Instead, the airports, which are often operated by the respective municipalities, would pay for using the technology and procure the centralised air traffic services from staff at Luftfartsverket or other providers. The advantage of this approach is that air traffic controllers, who make up a large part of the cost of the service, can be shared by several airports. The need for employees at small airports would then be limited to security and ground handling services and reduction in staff costs reduces the risk that airports will have to close.
In the spring of 2015, Sweden was the first country to deploy the digital air traffic control towers. As a result, today, the flights landing in Örnsköldsvik are remotely controlled by air traffic controllers in Sundsvall. Örnsköldsvik airport is equipped with remote-controlled, high-resolution cameras and sensors that transmit high-resolution images and relevant data in real time to Sundsvall flight control centre 100 km away and the classic control tower is just a memory. Luftfartsverket and SAAB are the developers of this technical solution that can be made available across the country using broadband networks.
PA explores the future of the aviation industry
These developments are more relevant than ever as the government is working on a new flight strategy that is expected to be completed in the autumn 2016. Hopefully the government, will take into account the need to support vibrant rural areas throughout the country, including northern Sweden.
The Swedish government’s objectives with regard to IT infrastructure are to be the best in the world in making use of the opportunities of digitization. We now have a chance to move this from words to action and take the lead in digital airport technology.
Sweden has several advanced industrial enterprises that, in cooperation with the state government, could develop modern technology to support the country's infrastructure. It should therefore be obvious to the government that there is a real opportunity to promote a network of small airports in the northern parts of the country, and help support employment in rural areas.
Anders Adrem is an aviation expert at PA Consulting Group