The expanding role of remote air traffic control towers. Do they provide improved efficiency?

Remote Air Traffic Towers: An expanding role

This month, the Reason Foundation, released a study about Remote Air Traffic Control towers as a possibility to enhance safety, reduce costs, and expand services at smaller airports. These are being proposed as an alternative to Contract Towers staffed with non-federal employees in light of the recent FAA budget challenges.

The concept is not new and has been tested in Europe successfully. In fact, much of today’s air traffic system is, relatively, remote. Local operations are supported by air traffic control towers located on the airfield they service. Beyond that, approach and departure control is provided by facilities that are often not located on the field but can be much further away. Outside of the approach and departure airspace, the enroute controllers take over and issue tactical commands from hundreds of miles away. Couple this reality with the success in Europe, and this concept is feasible. Right now, aviation is receiving a tremendous amount of attention from local citizens, government officials, and now private companies with the recent announcements by President Trump. In light of all of this, it is very important to remember that aviation is a system with many components that are heavily interrelated.

All aviation projects have borne out a single truth: The only successful aviation implementation occurred when the system as a whole was addressed. Remote towers are an interesting idea. However, any pursuit of this concept on a wider basis must address all elements of this diverse and complex infrastructure. Technology is great, but the contingencies must be addressed and part of the whole system. This has been part of BridgeNet’s core philosophy through its 20+ years of operation and it has never been proven to be more true than in today’s environment.


About the Author: Grady Boyce is a current and active Captain for a major airline flying the B-737. He has participated in, and led, airspace developments and ATC modernization efforts on all continents except Antarctica. Grady is a consultant to BridgeNet bringing flight procedure development, ATC expertise, and TERPS assistance into their current and future activities.