Monday 19 March 2018

Airport tower plan may be ditched in favour of remote traffic control

By the beginning of December, 23.5 million passengers had passed through Dublin Airport so far in 2015. Photo: John Cogill / Bloomberg News
By the beginning of December, 23.5 million passengers had passed through Dublin Airport so far in 2015. Photo: John Cogill / Bloomberg News
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The Irish Aviation Authority will consider ditching plans to build a huge 87-metre tall control tower at Dublin Airport and instead use remote technology that would enable the function to be based at a regular building away from the runway.

Such a move could save millions in construction costs.

Still in their infancy, remote towers typically use specialised video and other equipment to give controllers a virtual live view the same as that they would have if they were in a physical tower near a runway.

They also give them a live view of nearby airspace and the ramp area at the airport. While one Swedish airport has this year installed a remote tower, it's believed to be one of only a few worldwide. The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) received planning permission for a second control tower in 2010 as part of a wider plan to eventually construct a new runway.

But the project was put on hold as the likelihood of a second runway being built receded with the downturn. Traffic numbers at Dublin Airport sank during the recession, but this year will have already exceeded the previous record of 23.4 million that was hit in 2008.

By the beginning of December, 23.5 million passengers had passed through Dublin Airport so far in 2015.

That growth has prompted Dublin Airport to begin re-evaluating when it will need to begin construction of a second runway.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said in September that the DAA is evaluating the plan for a parallel runway, for which it already has planning permission. However, reports last week suggested that planning restrictions could complicate the use of a new runway.

But the IAA insists that a new runway will be required. Its chief executive, Eamonn Brennan, said recently that it would be "crucial" to ensure Dublin's continued growth as a secondary international hub.

The IAA said it now wants to explore the feasibility of a remote tower before making a decision on whether to proceed with construction of a physical control tower.

But the IAA has insisted that the remote tower technology is in its infancy and needs to be fully assessed for use at a major facility like Dublin.

"Traffic has now recovered considerably... and the DAA is now re-evaluating its plans for the second parallel runway for commission in the early 2020s." the IAA has told prospective applicants that will be considered for evaluating the remote tower option.

"In the context of this re-evaluation, the IAA now also needs to review the situation to provide a service to the new runway."

It added: "The advent of new remote tower technology has opened up a potential alternative means of providing tower services depending on circumstances.

"The IAA considers it prudent that the operational feasibility of remote tower technology should be examined as a possible replacement for constructing a new tower at Dublin Airport."

Remote tower technology is in its infancy and is only fully deployed at a small number of aerodromes worldwide, which cater for low density operations, with as few as five to 10 arrivals and departures each day.

Dublin in comparison is a busy international airport with over 800 movements per day.

The tiny remote northern Swedish airport of Ornskoldsvik installed a remote tower this year. It's a simple frame that houses advanced cameras. The images are watched by controllers 145km away at another airport who direct traffic at Ornskoldsvik.

Irish Independent

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