The airport in Saarbrücken will no longer have any air traffic controllers on site in the future. Instead, there is a center in the more than 500 kilometers away in Leipzig, from which the so-called remote tower control is exercised.
Various sensors ensure that the pilots also have all the information needed for their work in Saxony. However, tests have shown that a mere flood of data is not enough. Rather, the pilots themselves must be able to get an idea of the situation on the spot – which is why they have so far sat high up in the tower of the airport.
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In the case of the Saarbrücken airport, high-resolution cameras are now being used. From the recordings, a 3D image is then made, which allows a panoramic view and zooming in.
The staff can be used more flexibly
The German air traffic control hopes for the concept cost savings. Because so far it is the case that even at smaller airports all positions in the tower must be occupied. But because there are fewer take-offs and landings than at major airports, these are comparatively high costs.
By contrast, the new concept allows staff to be concentrated in one location and used more flexibly. In the long term, this could relieve smaller regional airports on the cost side. A not unimportant point. Because currently almost all small airports in Germany generate losses.
The German air traffic control therefore wants to gain further airports in the future for their concept of the remote-controlled airport. Currently, a changeover is also planned for the airports in Dresden and Erfurt.
For the pilots, the process remains the same
However, the approach is not completely new. In Sweden, the airport in Ornskoldsvik has been serviced for about three years by air traffic controllers in Sundsvall, 150 kilometers away.
The experiences made there show that the approach works without problems and does not jeopardize the safety of passengers. From the pilot’s point of view, it also does not matter where the air traffic controllers are: their landing routine does not change.
The size of the aircraft is not important. The remote tower control works for small carriers as well as jumbo jets. It is quite possible, therefore, that in the future, airports will be planned and built entirely without the characteristic tower.