From the layman's perspective, few of the many cogs that keep planes in the sky and airports running safely could use a 21st-century upgrade more than the age-old air traffic control tower. Saab unveiled its vision of the future last year with its remote tower (or r-TWR) — a system that provides a 360-degree live video feed of an airport to offsite monitoring stations — and now we're one step closer to seeing the technology deployed at runways across the world. The company has announced that the system is going to be trialed later this year by Norwegian airport operator Avinor to monitor and control an isolated heliport from the company's facilities in Bodø, about 60 miles away.
The system allows operators to view airspace and runways on screens as if they were in a traditional air traffic control tower. In addition to the 360-degree view, there is a independently-controllable camera that can be used to zoom in and view a particular area, and even better, the system can provide a data overlay that clearly marks and tracks aircraft and anomalies on the runway and in the air. The towers are also equipped with infrared sensors. The idea, if it isn't clear from the Norwegian trial, is to save money and increase efficiency by monitoring airports from centralized, offsite facilities solely designed for air traffic controllers. The technology could be used at larger airports — Saab suggests either as a backup, supplement, or replacement for traditional towers. This isn't the first step the r-TWR has taken into reality: it's already being tested in Australia and is "undergoing certification" for use in Sweden, but the latest trial in Norway is certainly the largest development so far.