The future of tower control – about mirTWR more undestandably

HungaroControl2021. 11. 17.

Four years ago, on November 14, 2017, the Hungarian Air Traffic Service launched the so-called Remote Tower, which enables distant airport management. Budapest Liszt Ferenc is the first airport in the world to use this innovative solution. The progressive technology will be upgraded by HungaroControl in a new project, which will result in a integrated system that will manage the capital’s international airport traffic even more efficiently. Viktor Zsóka, the leader of the company’s system development team, presented the details.

HungaroControl obtained the operating license of Remote Tower in 2017, after the completion of the official certification process. Since then, the company has been operating the Remote Tower control room – located at the company’s headquarters on Igló Street – as a contingency center suitable for live control. However, right after verification it became clear that airport traffic management system is very fragmented, making it difficult for tower controllers to work with, because they have to process a huge amount of information at once. Currently, colleagues serving in the control tower are watching more than ten different screens simultaneously, which are displaying information conveyed by a separate supporting subsystems. In addition, some of them are obsolete – have been used for decades – and are considered to be a so-called “legacy systems”, although in the meantime they have undergone some modernization.

Due to the current level of technological advancement, it is less justified to maintain the current fragmented system, as increased data transfer rates and significant improvements in computer performance allow installation of more integrated systems. In 2017, HungaroControl successfully applied for EU funding with the mirTWR program – which aims to improve Remote Tower technology –, thanks to which the entire control tower management system will be renewed. The company is implementing the project in several overlapping phases.

New camera polls at the airport

The first development has already taken place: the hardware for the advanced surface movement guidance and control system (A-SMGCS) has been replaced. In the second phase, the system for identifying and locating vehicles moving around the airport (MLAT) will be modernized. This is necessary because the terrain conditions at Budapest Airport have changed in the meantime (new facilities have been built), so the detection system needs to be adapted to the altered environment. In parallel, six new camera poles have been installed at the airport, allowing the Remote Tower video system to be upgraded. HungaroControl will also acquire a new tower control simulator, which will improve the effectiveness of trainings, because the new tool can model the live environment.

The consequence of these improvements will be that tower controllers will be able to use a more transparent and integrated system that displays the information they need to get the job done more safely and more easily. Upgrading the surface movement guidance and control system infrastructure can eliminate several independent systems (or their dedicated interface), such as lighting control or runway status panels, by merging them into a more comprehensive solution. This also increases flight safety, as the information is concentrated in one place and managed by a single system, so new support and alarm functions can be introduced. CMAC is one of them, which examines the extent to which the pilot follows the instructions of the tower controller. Figuratively speaking, if the aircraft starts to move for example, but has not previously been authorized to do so, the new system will notify the control tower of this action.

The next important security attribute of a new system will be a supportive forecasting feature called CATC. This alerts air traffic controllers about potential conflicting situations that may arise due their instructions. For instance, this function eliminates the possibility that a line-up and landing clearance is issued for the same runway at the same time, because the system will signalize the likelihood of a safety incident. With the continuous reorganization of air traffic, this feature will be especially useful, because during peak periods, it is a great challenge for tower controllers to schedule incoming and outgoing flights in a way that optimizes runway utilization while ensuring maximum safety. Last but not least, proper planning of the ground movement of aircrafts also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, because engines run on the ground for less time.

The visual design of the workstation in the contingency room

In October 2020, HungaroControl issued a public tender for the procurement and installation of the video system, the integrated A-SMGCS and the simulator. In October 2021, the contract was signed with the Norwegian Indra Navia, which is a leading digital transformation consultancy company in transport industry. According to the implementation schedule, consultation with the manufacturers will take place by February 2022, after which the installation and testing of the various systems and the commissioning of the simulator will begin. The goal is for the controllers to manage the traffic of the Budapest International Airport from the Remote Tower located at the headquarters by the end of 2023, but not later than the beginning of 2024.