CAAS testing new tech for guiding planes without seeing them

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CAAS testing new tech for air traffic controllers

Air traffic controllers at Changi Airport will soon be guiding planes to take off and land without having to actually see the aircraft from a control tower, and maybe one day, even from Jurong or Seletar.

This is part of a $7-million trial by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to develop and test a smart digital tower prototype.

Awarding the contract to UK-based Air Traffic Management service provider NATS - which manages London's Heathrow airport - CAAS said yesterday that the trial will take about 22 months to complete.

It is expected to start early next year.

The authority will then evaluate the operational feasibility before determining if the technology is suited for a busy airport like Changi.

So far, only small airports have adopted the technology.

Ornskoldsvik, a small airport in Sweden, is the first in the world where all flights are controlled remotely. Planes taking off or landing there are guided by air traffic controllers who are located nearly 170km away in the town of Sundsvall.

Other countries looking at remote towers include Hungary, Britain, the United States and Germany.

A smart digital tower, equipped with a range of assistive functionalities and features, should help enhance air traffic management and safety of runway and ground operations, and increase operational efficiencies at Changi Airport, the CAAS said.

The awarded contract includes the set-up of multiple fixed-position cameras to feed live video images onto a large video wall. This will provide a similar view to what air traffic controllers currently see from a physical control tower.

The trial will also employ advanced camera and video stitching technologies that will enable better display of information.

For instance, the video cameras can automatically pan, tilt, and zoom, to enable a closer look at objects and/or areas of interest.

CAAS director-general Kevin Shum, said: "In concert with Singapore's Smart Nation drive, we are leveraging digital technology to transform the aviation industry in Singapore in many different ways.

"We are excited by the possibilities and remain committed to working with our industry partners to provide quality air traffic management services without compromising on safety and service levels."