01 Mar 2019
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Invercargill to roll out NZ's first digital air traffic control system

By Sara Barker

They work from above and keep travellers safe, but air traffic controllers in Invercargill may now be able to keep their feet on terra firma.

The airport is about to be home to New Zealand’s very first remotely operated digital air traffic control tower. It will allow controllers to work remotely and still see the same air traffic as if they were still in the tower.

“Digital tower technology allows controllers to manage traffic from a remote location by replicating the view they would have from a conventional tower using high definition cameras and surveillance sensors,” explains Airways New Zealand.

Air traffic control requires an advanced set of tools including infrared, object tracking, and augmented reality.

“An advanced set of tools including infrared camera equipment, object detection and tracking ability will provide vastly improved situational awareness, particularly in low light, or during adverse weather conditions. Augmented reality features allow live aircraft information, such as altitude and speed, to be overlaid on screens.”

Airways says the technology will also provide better aviation safety, improved weather resilience, and the ability to change New Zealand’s regions.

“A digital tower at Invercargill Airport is the first step in our journey to modernise the way we provide air traffic services at airports,” says Airways general manager of Air Traffic Services, Tim Boyle.

“We’re excited about the safety and efficiency advantages the technology offers to the airport, airlines, and ultimately travellers.”

A company called Frequentis is helping Airways to deploy the tower technology. Its smartVISION solution is what’s introducing digital air traffic control in New Zealand.

There are already fully operational digital air traffic control towers in Europe (the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden). Frequentis is also helping the US Department of Defense with the same rollouts.

“As Southland’s gateway to the world, Invercargill Airport is a growing regional airport and we’re pleased to be leading the introduction of digital air traffic control into New Zealand,” says Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty.

“Digital towers will help to future-proof our airport operations, ensuring we’re able to safely and efficiently meet the ongoing needs of all those who fly here.”

The digital tower is due to go live in 2020. At the beginning it will be operated by controllers based at the airport, but it will soon move to a centralised hub that serves a number of regional locations.

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