GATCO has written to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s managing director, Inglis Lyon, detailing its concerns about the introduction of remote tower services and, in particular, multiple remote tower operations. GATCO is not opposed to remote tower operations. It strongly believes in the advancement of the ATM profession, provided the safety of the ATM system and the professional and personal well being of ATM personnel is not compromised, which are GATCO’s main priorities.

Many challenges remain in the development and implementation of multiple remote tower systems and procedures: technology, infrastructure, cybersecurity and regulatory amongst others. GATCO’s letter also highlights the following challenges, which are not as quantifiable as those above but can have a direct effect on the safety and expeditiousness of remote tower operations:

  • A report from live trials of simultaneous remote tower operations in Ireland has indicated that the issue of controller workload needs to be further investigated.
  • The same report highlighted that the additional communication required between air and ground controllers in a remote tower scenario resulted in an increase in both conrollers’ workloads.
  • Even in sequential remote tower operations, a deeper understanding of the mental and physical demand on controllers is required.
  • Air traffic controllers taking part in remote tower demonstrations around Europe have raised concerns about the difficulty to observe VFR traffic on the visual displays in some circumstances.
  • Another characteristic of VFR flights is their unpredictability, which could result in high workload situations, frequency congestion and loss of situational awareness during simultaneous remote tower operations.
  • There has been a period of higher than expected increase in air traffic while suffering from a shortage of air traffic controllers worldwide. In these circumstances, staffing needs, rostering practices and fatigue management are crucial to ensure the safety and resilience of the operation. These matters become even more relevant in simultaneous remote tower operations.

These challenges can only be tackled by involving, from a very early stage, the air traffic controllers who know the ATM system thoroughly and use it on a daily basis. GATCO urges HIAL to actively involve air traffic control personnel in the decision-making and implementation of HIAL’s ATM 2030 strategy to provide sustainable air navigation services for HIAL’s airports, which includes the creation of a multiple remote tower centre and a single approach control unit.

GATCO members can read the full letter here.