A DFS remote operations camera tower at Saarbrücken Airport (Image source: Frequentis)

German air traffic controllers shift to completely remote operations at Saarbrücken Airport

To provide efficient workforce coverage and lower airport operating costs, German air navigation provider DFS will shift all Saarbrücken, Erfurt, and Dresden air traffic operations to the DFS Remote Tower Control Center in Leipzig.
Yesterday, a Luxair regional airliner arriving at Saarbrücken Airport was the first aircraft remotely cleared for landing from the Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) Remote Tower Control Center 450 kilometers (280 miles) east in Leipzig. Two minutes later, an aircraft from the same airline was the first to receive remote take-off clearance.

After a four-week introductory phase, remote tower control will become part of regular operations at Saarbrücken – making it the largest airport the in the world where daily operations are completely remotely controlled.

(Image source: DFS)

By using high-definition video and infrared cameras that offer a permanent 360-degree view of the airport, air traffic controllers from DFS – Germany’s air navigation service provider – no longer need to glance outside of air traffic control tower windows.

Now, panoramic images are displayed on rows of monitors set up above controller working positions.

“Our remote tower system is an example of how new digital technologies can be used innovatively in the aviation sector,” says DFS CEO Klaus-Dieter Scheurle. “We are improving our efficiency while maintaining the high standards of safety DFS requires. We have established a new standard in the world of remote tower technology.”

The remote tower control system substantially enhances controller capabilities in their work. Specifically, the infrared technology aids controllers during inclement weather and night operation. It automatically detects movement and highlights aircraft in the air and on the ground, including ground vehicles, and controllers can decide between tracking incoming and departing aircraft manually or automatically using the pan-tilt-zoom cameras.

(Image source: DFS)

All optical functions are designed redundantly and camera housings are heated and have an automatic cleaning function. Over the next years, DFS will use the new technology to control traffic at Erfurt and Dresden airports from Leipzig as well.

While DFS has long monitored air traffic in German airspace remotely from its four large control centers in Langen, Bremen, Munich, and Karlsruhe, “It's a logical next step to control take-offs and landings remotely,” says Scheurle.

While maintaining the high safety standard, the introduction of remote tower technology to German airports should lead to cost-savings and allow air traffic controllers to be deployed more flexibly.

“Until now, remote tower solutions had been an option for very small airports with low levels of traffic only,” says Scheurle. “Our system allows us for the first time to control a large international airport around the clock from one external location.”

DFS developed its remote tower system together with the Austrian technology company Frequentis, while the video and infrared sensors come from the German group Rheinmetall Defence Electronics.

Overall, four years were needed for the development.

A joint venture – Frequentis DFS Aerosense – has been set up between a DFS subsidiary DFS Aviation Services and Frequentis for the national and international marketing of the DFS remote tower system.

To date, ten air traffic controllers from Saarbrücken have transferred to Leipzig. Over the next years, DFS will transfer the control of Erfurt and Dresden airports there, too. The plan is to have the air traffic controllers progressively acquire all of the ratings needed to control air traffic at all three airports, not just one. DFS can then deploy its personnel more efficiently and react more flexibly to changes. DFS also predicts that the costs for operating buildings and associated infrastructure will also decline.

The tower in Saarbrücken will remain operational at first after the control of air traffic is transferred from Saarbrücken to Leipzig.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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