Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remote air traffic control: Cost effective but will India's notorious runway incursions keep it incident free

From next year, it is possible that your flight is being managed either by an air traffic control tower on trucks or from a remote location, not from the airport premises. The Airports Authority of India is drawing up plans to test mobile ATC towers and those that operate remotely, in a bid to save costs and provide effective ATC services to small airports where operations are mushrooming.

So, instead of having ATC towers at Ahmedabad as well as all other small airports within Gujarat, the plan is to just have these services at Ahmedabad airport – and the ATCs present here will direct takeoffs and landings at other airports within the state either remotely or through towers which are mobile, mounted on trucks.
This is a fine idea, implemented in some other countries like Canada, Sweden etc but will it work for India? We are notorious for our unseemly runway incursions, from all manner of animals and humans collecting firewood from airport premises, besides other forms of encroachments.
This piece in India Today shows how a dog on the runway at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai lead a Jet Airways flight to abort take-off while four others were made to hover in the skies for more than 15 minutes last year. If we are unable to prevent animal and human incursions on runways when the ATC services are present at the airport, will we be able to manage landings and takeoffs at small airports with remote ATC operations without incidents?
This piece  in Telegraph talks of passenger safety is being threatened across Madhya Pradesh’s airports due to “regular” encounters with wild boars, jackals, panthers, nilgai, goats, stray dogs, sloth bears, wildcats etc on runways.
Of course there are plus points too of such a move towards remote ATC facilities. As this piece  in Indian Express explains, the economics of such a move is compelling, though here again, problems with mobile signal and therefore connectivity issues will have to be sorted out. Or we could see ATC operations suddenly going blank (happens at larger airports with in-house ATC too) on power failures, signal issues. The AAI says it had budgeted for Rs 15 crore to test remote ATC facilities and has already issued an Expression of Interest (EoI) from interested parties for such a move. The first such tower is likely coming up at Ahmedabad by December next year.
10/11/17 Sindhu Bhattacharya/First Post