Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Get HideMyAss! VPN, PC Mag's Top 10 VPNs of 2016 for 55% off for a Limited Time ×
Transportation

The Air Traffic Control Tower of the Future Doesn't Include Humans 104

CravenRaven76 writes: Sweden is testing the future of air traffic control at Ornskoldsvik Airport. An 80 foot tall unmanned tower at the airport houses 14 high-definition cameras to help controllers survey the site with better-than-human vision. Video from the cameras is transmitted to Sunvsal Airport, where a controller guides the planes. Potential future plans include grouping every airport controller together at distant facilities in order to save costs of running multiple air traffic control towers.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Air Traffic Control Tower of the Future Doesn't Include Humans

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    One controller can do the work of many.
    It is just a cost saving measure. Not a safety one.

    • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @04:15AM (#50538947) Journal

      It can be both. I've worked in the aviation field and come across quite a few of the issues associated with this.

      There are now some seriously busy ATC sectors around the globe; the ones around New York and London are probably the busiest, but there are plenty of others. The problem's a growing one; while global aviation demand fell during the early years of the recession, it is spiking back sharply now and looks set to continue to grow.

      Without the IT systems that have already been brought in, management of some of the throughput rates in those very busy sectors today would be pretty much impossible. Going forward, more advanced systems are going to be needed to help manage down the potential for human error as things get very difficult indeed; take a look at London's airspace systems (with traffic flows from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend all requiring management to maintain both throughputs and separations.

      The risk comes from deskilling. No automation system is perfect and, in a safety critical sector like aviation, you need to be able to avoid compromising safety when systems fail. That might not require maintaining those throughput rates (realistically, you are going to accept flight delays and cancellations when you get a major IT failure), but it does involve being able to get aircraft that are in the air onto the ground safely.

      To date, these issues have been managed. A major computer failure in the UK earlier this year was managed safely. But as you reduce the number of operators and, in many cases, shift their role to the management of IT systems rather than the management of air traffic, you have to face a real concern about how you keep the skills required to cope when things go wrong.

      It's a tough one. But the industry is aware of it. Genuine cost-stripping is very rare in the aviation industry; it has a safety culture like nothing else I've ever seen.

      • De-skilling is a major issue. In more than one field, we've cut off the bottom rungs of the ladder by outsourcing and/or automating the simpler tasks. But it's practice on the simpler tasks that eventually make you an expert. Maybe in some fields, it's acceptable to dispense with experts (if the state of modern software is any indication), but I'm not so sure that dispensing with experts in the arena of Air Traffic Control is something people are going to want.

      • Some clarification on this:

        Tower ATCs only handle aircraft in the immediate vicinity of the airport and ground traffic. At larger airports (all the london ones mentioned) there is a separate ground traffic controller.

        Everything else is handled by regional ATC

        Enhanced optics in a tower is a good thing and I doubt any tower operator will be deskilled as in the larger sites it will be an adjunct to them, not "instead of" - the main use for this kind of thing is allowing ATC operations at currently-uncontrolled

    • I'm an actual private pilot with instrument privileges.
      Having a tower is useful, and there are lots of airports with too little traffic to justify an tower full time or at all.
      By adopting this type of remote presence it might be possible to staff airport towers full time, yielding an increase in safety instead.
      It might be possible to have tower services at airports that have no tower at all today.
      And there are plenty of airports with towers but with too little traffic to keep a single ATC professional busy

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @12:44AM (#50538421)
    Either from a technical glitch, power outage, or whatever.
    • by marciot ( 598356 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @12:58AM (#50538465)

      They just tell the planes to stop where they are and hold on until they can correct the problem.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        Probably this, no joke.
        Control towers (the building, not the ATC as a whole) are for watching what happens on the ground, so yes, you can tell all the planes that are not obstructing the runway stay where they are.

      • by w3woody ( 44457 )

        Pilots at those airports simply revert to the rules surrounding uncontrolled airports--which is to coordinate with other pilots at the same airport on the tower frequency in order to work out (according to some well defined rules) who has landing and takeoff priority.

        Some information here: FAA: Operations at non-towered airports [faa.gov]

      • Nope, that's not how ATC works.
        Aircraft can be re-routed.
        ATC almost never looses radio.
        And with the migration to ADS-B, while keeping the requirement for transponders, radar will have two completely independent parallel systems (the old transponder based and the new ADS-B/GPS based one).
        ADS-B infrastructure is a LOT cheaper than secondary radar (the stuff that talk to transponders), so having everything 100% redundant is logical.
        Also, secondary radar requires to be close to aircraft to allow for tight separ

    • Air traffic control relies mostly on transponders and radar, so quite likely you could continue operations even without video. Video would be most useful for directing taxiing. However you can decrease your workload by >90% by keeping departing planes on the ground and putting incoming planes into a holding pattern or diverting them. The only planes that you must deal with are those in the air and with inadequate fuel to divert, which almost never happens (only if they've suffered significant delays/dive

      • Video would be most useful for directing taxiing.

        This is a solved problem [wikipedia.org].

        • I think your solution is too expensive for all but major airports. I think the airport-sized selfie stick will be much cheaper.

          • So there's two aspects to this: the controlling aspect and the surveillance aspect. Airports with low traffic volume are fine with procedural controlling (no need for high traffic density) and airports with high traffic volume can afford ground radar. The surveillance aspect is almost pointless. In good visibility, it's very low priority (aircraft can see each other anyway) and in poor visibility, which is when it's most needed, it doesn't work anyway. Mind you, I'm talking about some sort of automated opti
    • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

      The idea that a human air traffic controller at any modern airport would do ANY better without video or radar is ridiculous.

    • I would guess that Ã-rnskÃldsvik probably have one or two flights per hour during peak time, and Sundsvall slightly more.... This is old news btw. I even think it has been on slashdot before. Still interesting though.
  • It would seem being an air traffic controller would be an easily automated task.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because they need to relay verbal commands and respond to certain calls which may not be easily recognisable.

      Have you ever heard how garbled a radio is? Imagine running voice recognition on that.

      • Because they need to relay verbal commands and respond to certain calls which may not be easily recognisable.

        Have you ever heard how garbled a radio is? Imagine running voice recognition on that.

        This. Remember the first indicator they had of an airplane hijacking on September 11 was a garbled transmission. An automated ATC probably wouldn't have realized what it was.

    • by schnell ( 163007 )

      It would seem being an air traffic controller would be an easily automated task.

      So it would seem. But there are a lot of them today, and axing human workers in favor of computers - even if the computers can do the job better - is always contentious.

      This appears to be one of those issues where the Slashdot "horde" is of two minds: 1.) Technology is awesome and more reliable! and 2.) Down with automation when it replaces human jobs (or down with even replacing national human jobs with international ones)! From what I understand, given the more generally socialist and "universal welfare"

    • There are too many qualitative judgements needed to control air space and ground traffic at an airport. The cost of developing and deploying all the sensory technology, adequate backups, etc. is almost a deal breaker right there.
    • It would seem being an air traffic controller would be an easily automated task.

      ATC work also requires creative thinking and responding to various unexpected situations. Not impossible to automate, but quite challenging.

    • How would a computer do a task like this. Aircraft is on final approach, 300m from the end of the runway when it drops suddenly and crashes over the final row of landing lights and skids to a halt on the hit point of the runway? How does the computer detect that, determine that it is an accident and then respond.

      Sometimes you just need humans who are watching what is going on and capable of instant recognition of what is happening.

    • by Sun ( 104778 )

      Aireplane: "Mayday mayday mayday"
      Computer: "You seem to be writing a letter!"

    • It would seem being an air traffic controller would be an easily automated task.

      Lots of things seem simply to people unfamiliar with the task. In reality air traffic control is a very complex and high stress job. Remember that any automated system has to account for ALL the corner cases and weird situations that might occur because it is very literally a matter of life and death. If it was easy to automate air traffic control it would have already been automated. Humans are in the loop precisely because it is not a trivial task to automate and because humans (flawed though we are)

  • by Aethedor ( 973725 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @12:53AM (#50538443) Homepage
    Computers are good at doing things that it has been programmed to do. When everything goes as plan, nothing unpredicted happened, everything will be fine. But when some unpredicted situation appears, unforseen bad weather, failing engine or equipement on board of an airplane, an object on the runway, you name it, that's where the computer will fail. And those are the moments when the judgement of a person, an aircontroller, is needed. An unmanned air traffic control tower? I'm not sure, but it sounds like a recipe for accidents to me.
    • I agree with your post. And it's exactly why I find self-driving autos a ridiculous idea.

    • Erm no I disagree. There is very little room for judgement in this field. You're talking about a field which has mastered the art of working based on emergency procedures. Stuff on the runway? Procedure for that. Emergency on a plane? Procedure for that. Bad weather? Procedure for that. You name it, I'm sure they will have a procedure for that too.

      • Sure. But you expect a computer to always detect any kind of object on a runway? How can it know about an emergency situation on board of a plane? You expect every plane to have some sort of button panel on board for every kind of situation? Pregnant woman in labor? Press this button. Aggressive passenger? Press this button. Passenger with heart attack? Press that button. A plane in trouble leaked fuel on the runway. How's a computer supposed to detect that?

        Yes, these are exceptional situations. But it is e

        • Sure. But you expect a computer to always detect any kind of object on a runway?

          Yes. That's a far easier problem to solve than something as complicated as identifying location of planes using video feeds (which they have also solved).

          How can it know about an emergency situation on board of a plane? You expect every plane to have some sort of button panel on board for every kind of situation? Pregnant woman in labor? Press this button. Aggressive passenger? Press this button. Passenger with heart attack? Press that button. A plane in trouble leaked fuel on the runway. How's a computer supposed to detect that?

          Not at all. Just one button. They already have this. From the air-traffic control the situation is the same in every scenario, get the plane on the ground. Now that's not where it needs to end. A lot of airports are run and managed remotely, and who's to say that emergency can't relay to an actual person somewhere in a call center? After all the task of la

  • I think sometimes need to use fake addresses, because the risk of leaks if we use real address
  • by Trracer ( 210292 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @01:35AM (#50538563) Homepage

    Nice to see a story about stuff around my neighbourhood. Too bad they got the name wrong tho :(

    • Nice to see a story about stuff around my neighbourhood. Too bad they got the name wrong tho :(

      Yeah, but English does not have a 'd' character. O-o

  • How is this news? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mnmn ( 145599 ) on Thursday September 17, 2015 @01:38AM (#50538567) Homepage
    Remote ATC controllers are very common in Canada and USA (Peterborough for example). How is this anything new?

    Nav Canada has had ATC controllers sit in the ATC facility at Pearson airport while controlling multiple other airports for years or maybe decades. This is very common practice and all pilots know what an RCO is.

    The only difference I can spot here is they get webcams. That's hardly an important bit as the ATC never has to have visual of the plane. In a controlled airport the pilot just has to declare I have visual and thats good enough. Works similarly for taxiing aircraft.
    • The difference is the type of airport. You reference a general aviation example, while the article is talking about a commercial airport. Sundsvall airport handles over a quarter million passengers per year.
      • The difference is the type of airport. You reference a general aviation example, while the article is talking about a commercial airport.

        No, there are tons of commercial airports without radar coverage and with only procedural control and they manage perfectly fine. Imagine this, they're able to operate even in bad weather when controller can't see the planes! What unholy sorcery!

        Sundsvall airport handles over a quarter million passengers per year.

        Holy tits, when you write it like "quarter million" it sounds so bombastic! But in reality it averages out to one aircraft movement about every 1-2 hours (and that's being generous with daytime-only operations). Yawn...

    • There are different levels of ATC, handling progressively smaller and more detailed areas.

      The tower is part of local control, which includes actually looking at runways to ensure they are clear. I take it you can find the wikipedia page of ATC yourself.

    • Air traffic controllers come in basically 3 flavors: airport, regional, and international. Regional and international are more or less similar except that the international controllers are dealing with trans-oceanic traffic and apt to use shortwave or satellite radio for communications.

      There are only around half-a-dozen or so regional ATCs in the USA. These centers may use long-distance communications links to unmanned satellite sites as the original setup was based primarily on ground radar and VHF communi

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      Nothing new. Just let them think it's something new and since it's something in Europe, it's great.

      New to Europe, they're catching up to North America again.

      At some point the Japanese will pick it up, vastly improve on it.

  • and try to make half as many air traffic controllers do twice the work.

    • Precisely this was happening in the late 1970's. It's one of the reasons the air traffic controllers when on their infamous strike in 1981. The personnel _could not_ do their jobs well with 40 hour work weeks, their attention would wander, even for a moment, with the high workloads and much poorer instrumentation available to them and they needed to be able to come in, especially after inevitable double or even triple shifts due to short staffing.

  • You need at least one human, because dogs can't open cans of food for themselves.

  • Alice Springs in Australia has been testing this system for a few years. Unfortunately I'm not sure how it worked out as I am no longer working in the field.

    The Alice airport has an interesting problem. Basically there aren't a lot of flights and in a normal situation the airport would not have tower controllers. However the flights that are there tend to come in dense waves, so the risk is higher than the average numbers would indicate and they had to have a controller. I also believe that they lost mon

  • Remote Tower is not the same as "Doesn't Include Humans". The way Saab treats their Air Traffic business units, I wouldn't be surprised if this fell apart. They need to start investing in it instead if sucking it dry.
  • Fire all air traffic controllers, and we don't need no replacements!
  • Here we see another example of a trade being wiped out by machines. It is fine and wonderful but society still takes no efforts at all to come up with ways to help people whose careers come to a sudden end. Air controllers are a skilled group but endless retraining is no longer a real answer. We must support workers as technology displaces them.
  • The planes will probably be flying themselves by that time too.

    Really, this thing better be backed up to the hilt, 'cuz if it went down and all ATC were to cease, those planes aloft would be unlikely to be able to coordinate themselves to a safe landing and not be hitting each other.

  • Clearly, it's more cost-effective to run a single, huge air traffic control center in New Delhi or Mumbai for the entire planet than individual air traffic controllers scattered about. I hope pilots will be able to understand the thick accents.

Multics is security spelled sideways.

Working...