The first virtual-control tower in the United States—virtual as in, no controllers onsite—is set for a future opening in Selma, Alabama. This is planned to be the first of many remotely operated towers (an exact number is unknown). These are hoped to benefit small airports across the country that could use a control tower but can’t budget and qualify for the greater than $5 million expenditure to build a conventional onsite tower.
Instead of having a dedicated ATC staff at these towers, each remote-control hub has the capacity to service up to 40 airports across the nation. It will have all the typical technology available to safely direct traffic at the remote sites. This entire deployment will be mostly transparent to the pilot using these remote resources—hopefully.
The private sector is being tasked with the build-out, training and operation of these facilities. Advanced ATC is partnering with Indra Corporation, a group based in Spain, whose primary line of business is navigation systems and the development of remote tower technology. Indra will also provide the logistics and required software along with staffing and support for all remote towers deployed in North America.
The remote-tower concept may be new to North America, but several European countries already have remote towers in operation. In 2016, Sweden was the first country in the world to certify a remote tower, controlling air traffic at Örnsköldsvik from a remote tower hub 93 miles away at Sundsvall.
But what good is the technology and these advanced systems if no one knows how to operate them? Advanced ATC has that covered with an international training academy set to open at Craig Field in Selma. The academy will be tasked with training and certifying remote-tower air traffic controllers, with up to 50 students per year completing the required training.
We’ll be following this story as it unfolds.