Position Paper on Remotely Operated Towers

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Position Paper on Remotely Operated Towers

57TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Accra, Ghana, 19-23 March 2018

WP No. 97

Position Paper on Remotely Operated Towers

Presented by Giusy Sciacca – ROT Group Coordinator

Summary

In the last years the operational concept or Remote Tower Operations (RTO) has been tested and in some cases already implemented. ROTs are a remarkable example of how the digitalisation and virtualisation of ATS provision is affecting our profession raising new issues and challenges. The aim of this paper is to convey an updated view of the process of the current implementation and highlight the need for further research in order to cope with all the already known and emerging issues related to such a revolutionary change of the tower environment.

Introduction

1.1 The ROT Group was stablished during the Toronto Conference under the leadership of former EVPT (current DP). The group was tasked with the development of a position paper on the subject.

1.2 Responsibility of coordination of the group was taken by Giusy Sciacca. All coordination was made by email with no presencial meetings.

Discussion

2.1 Several drafts were developed being the sources IFATCA policy on the subject as well as European regulations, guidelines, papers, ICAO documents and HF studies:

  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/340, 20th February 2015;
  • ICAO Annex 11, Air Traffic Services, 14th Ed., July 2016;
  • ICAO, DOC 4444, PANS-ATM, Procedures for Navigation Services – Air Traffic Management, 16th Ed., November 2016;
  • EASA, Guidance Material on the implementation of the remote tower concept for singe mode of operation, Issue 1, 3rd July 2015;
  • EASA, Explanatory Note to Decision 2015/015/R, 3rd July 2015;
  • EGHD, The Human Dimension in Remote Tower Operations, Position paper, December 2017;
  • Erik Hollnagel, David D. Woods, Nancy Leveson, Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts, 2006.

2.2 The final version is included as an annex to this working paper.

2.3 In order to maintain consistency between the TPM and the position paper, it is the opinion of the ROT group that the conclusions and recommendations of the position paper should be included in the TPM.

Conclusions

See position paper in Annex.

Recommendations

It is recommended that the current IFATCA policy ADME 2.15 (TPM 2017) is updated taking in consideration the development of the RTO implementation.

References

  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/340, 20th February 2015;
  • ICAO Annex 11, Air Traffic Services, 14th Ed., July 2016;
  • ICAO, DOC 4444, PANS-ATM, Procedures for Navigation Services – Air Traffic Management, 16th Ed., November 2016;
  • EASA, Guidance Material on the implementation of the remote tower concept for singe mode of operation, Issue 1, 3rd July 2015;
  • EASA, Explanatory Note to Decision 2015/015/R, 3rd July 2015;
  • EGHD, The Human Dimension in Remote Tower Operations, Position paper, December 2017.

IFATCA Position Paper – Remotely Operated Towers

1 Introduction

The development of the Remotely Operated Tower (ROT) concept and its implementation all over the world is often driven by the search for lower costs for the air traffic services (ATS). So far, these developments have occurred faster than the regulatory development process at international, national and regional levels.

The ROT concept is not to be deemed as a mere technological implementation, as it implies a radical change in the acquisition of data and affects the nature of the controllers’ work itself. Accordingly, the effect of staff related issues and new tasks as well as responsibility and skills should be analysed and recognised by all stakeholders. Also, a standardisation on the working procedures, working environment, technical solutions and minimum technical standards by new and advanced systems and tools must be set.

IFATCA, as the leading International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations, means to highlight and stress the needs for staffing related issues, minimum technical requirements, standardisation of procedural design and safety issues for the ROTs.


2 Definitions

Remote Tower Operations (RTO)

The concept of providing ATS from a different location rather than from a traditional control tower at an aerodrome. Using different surveillance technologies such as infra-red cameras and thermal sensors, a complete or partial tower view can be recreated virtually at a Remote Tower Module (RTM).

Remotely Operated Tower (ROT)

A facility that is operated remotely and transmits collected sensory data to a RTM.

Remote Tower Module (RTM)

The RTM is the workstation from which remote aerodrome services can be provided. It includes both the Controller Working Positions (CWPs), including the necessary ATS systems and the visual presentation display screens.

Remote Tower Centre (RTC)

One or more remote tower modules compose the Remote Tower Centre (RTC), from which ATS can be provided to several aerodromes.


3 Mode of Operations

Two main modes of operations have been developed so far: single and multiple. Within the multiple modes of operation, sequential and simultaneous can be further distinguished. The concept of multiple modes of operation is still not mature and deserves careful assessments and considerations.

Single mode of operation

An air traffic service provision from a Remote Tower Module (RTM) for only one aerodrome at a time. ATS will not be delivered to more than one airport at a time concurrently.

Sequential multiple mode of operation

An air traffic control service provided to two or more aerodromes with only one aerodrome being provided with a service at any one time from a Remote Tower Module (RTM). This concept is being trialled for low density operations to operate strategically on demand.

Simultaneous multiple mode of operation

An air traffic control service provided to two or more aerodromes with a service being provided to more than one aerodrome simultaneously.

Contingency operations

An air traffic control service provided from a remote location to be used as a contingency in the event of a failure of the traditional facility.


4 Discussion

4.1 Safety

According to IFATCA`s view on safety RTO must provide an equivalent level of safety to that of conventional tower operations. In this context it should be clear, that new technology and tools shall support staff in accomplishing their tasks and providing a service that is equivalent to a tower. Highly automated systems that can also be used in conventional towers, like thermal and infra-red cameras can enhance the level of target detection during night or low visibility with positive effects in terms of surveillance and people’s understanding of the situation.

All liability issues which might be extended to all those involved in the whole cycle of implementation from design project managers to manufacturers and from the operators ( ATCOs and FISOs) to maintenance (ATSEPs) shall be clearly addressed and defined by the regulator. Likewise, any cross-border operation, where controllers licensed in one State provide ATS to locations in another State, must be regulated and coordinated by the authorities concerned.

IFATCA policy is:

Organisations that provide ATM services beyond state borders shall clearly define the operational legal implications of providing these services, and train controllers in the implications.

(IFATCA 2017, Technical and Professional Manual, ATS 3.14 p. 3 2 3 16)

 

The introduction of new technology, tools and procedures affects task performance and responsibilities and therefore shall undergo a safety assessment. Such changes need evaluation by a change management system and requires a continuous effort from the Safety Management System to keep up with the technological evolution of the aviation system.

IFATCA policy is:

Operational controllers shall be involved in the design, development and implementation of new ATM systems. Their role shall include:

  • Establishing users’ requirements;
  • Defining operational training requirements prior to implementation;
  • Participating in the risk assessment process;
  • Validating the system;
  • Providing feedback in the further development of the system.

The design, development and implementation team of a new ATM system/equipment/tool shall include, as a minimum:

  • System developers – typically software and hardware engineers;
  • Project managers;
  • End-users – i.e. the operational controllers, supervisors and ATSEPs (Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel);
  • Legal experts;
  • Human factors specialists;
  • Safety specialists.

(IFATCA 2017, Technical and Professional Manual, AAS 1.13 p. 3 2 1 17)

 

4.2 Licensing

The approach to the job, the environment and the modes the tasks of the operators are accomplished in RTOs are different from today’s work and the environment of the conventional towers. Tasks and responsibilities will differ depending on technical equipment and supporting tools than in conventional towers. Staff will be faced with significantly different settings to perform and achieve service provision.

IFATCA policy is:

Provisions, training programmes, separation standards and a specific Remote Tower endorsement are required for operating at Remote and Virtual Towers.

(IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (2017), ADME 2.15 Page 3 2 2 17)

 

4.3 Training

Training is a keyword when facing such an innovative era and it has a strategic importance. With regard to the implementation of ROTs, the introduction of a transitional and conversional training, as recommended by EASA (EASA, Guidance Material on the implementation of the remote tower concept for single mode operation, 2015, pag.26, 2.11) for the European Member States, is highly relevant and recommended for both ATS and maintenance operators. Currently (2018) training for operational staff is not covering all these methodologies and procedures.

Therefore, IFATCA suggests the introduction of Unit Training Plans for RTO operators in a harmonised way to meet Common Core Content training requirements. ROTs unit training and competence plans, including OJTI and Supervisory, shall therefore be introduced and followed. RTO Unit Training Plans shall focus on all the training needs above the standard Unit Training Plans belonging to the conventional towers, which have not been entirely identified, yet.

4.4 Technical requirements

The development of the RTO solutions is not standardised in any way in today’s competitive environment. Early iterations of the RTM presented technical solutions that more or less replicated the 360° visual world of a tower with displays surrounding the operator, which in some recent technical solutions tend to reduce the displayed covered view to 270° or even 240°. As a consequence, the ATS operator must rely on surveillance for the hidden portions of the air or ground. The cases of reduced displayed view might lead to important legal implications.

Furthermore, the compression of the images might affect the visual perception of distance of the operator. In this latter case an Human Factor and Human Performance analysis might bring to relevant results.

Despite being in most cases very accurate, the presentation of traffic in a RTM is the result of digitally elaborated images acquired through the use of cameras, that is electronic surveillance systems rather than visual observation, as stated in DOC 4444 ICAO (DOC 4444 ICAO 16th ed. 2016, Procedures for Air Navigation Services, Air Traffic Management, Chapter 7, 7.1.1.2).

These solutions introduce unknown challenges to the operator, whose perception of traffic will no longer be three-dimensional, but the interpretation of a visual presentation where flight paths and geometry are not the same as real life.

Therefore, IFATCA believes that all separation and ATS procedures applied in conventional towers shall be assessed to be applied in the remote environment.

IFATCA policy is:

Separation standards and procedures for Remote and Virtual Towers shall be developed or adapted and implemented based on a robust safety case and the demonstrated capabilities of the system.

(IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (2017), ADME 2.15 Page 3 2 2 17)

 

Likewise, the introduction of new contingency procedures and checklist is are requested. IFATCA is concerned that ATCOs will have to operate in a visual environment that is not intuitive (natural, similar to real life) and will, in high workload situations, revert to natural interpretation of the visual presentation in the RTM, with the risk of leading to unsafe situations.

4.5 Human Factors

Remote tower technology is a change in the way operators deliver ATS, and several new operational concepts have arisen in response to specific local needs. An identification of all human factors implications along the process of implementation shall be carried out, because all the emergent properties (Erik Hollnagel, David D. Woods, Nancy Leveson, Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts, 2006) of the system are still not known. Not only safety assessments and human factor analyses are recommended, but also more research and experience in every ROT in order to make the operational concept fully mature.

Virtualisation and digitalisation are new concepts arising new challenges, which are still not entirely understood and integrated into the current standards and regulations. The availability of technology alone is not sufficient to motivate the change. Sociological, cultural and micro economical assessments shall be taken into account as well.

The Federation is seriously concerned about the implications related to the potential provision of simultaneous multiple operations by one single operator (i.e. from one RTM). Research maturity itself on the concept for remote provision of ATS for multiple aerodromes is not fully reached. So far, SESAR has published just one solution (SESAR, Release 4, Solution #52, Remotely Provided Air Traffic Services for Two Low Density Aerodromes) about multiple mode of operations with significant recommendations and additional activities relevant for the industrialisation phase (see Annex 1). The challenges associated with remote ATS provided to multiple airports cannot be underestimated. Lessons can be learned from area control where one controller has ratings for different sectors. However, care should be taken in drawing analogies between differing types of operation (for example, ADC-runway controller, ADC/APP) as situational awareness for tower control has different complexities to area control.

For instance, in area control north is always up on the situational display. In the RTM the cardinal directions of north and south may not be represented on the same spot on the visual display for the different airport. The cognitive challenges of handling this kind of differences shall be addressed, especially in case of unusual occurrences.

Furthermore, the case of Überlingen is an evidence sadly, of how the complex issues arising from the management of multiple tasks remain. One of the recommendation following the accident of Überlingen requires that an additional controller shall be assigned the task in case of service provided to more than one sector. Coherently, the same principle is applicable to the management of simultaneous RTO.

IFATCA policy is:

ATCOs shall not be required to provide a Remote and Virtual tower service for more than one aerodrome simultaneously.

(IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (2017), ADME 2.15 Page 3 2 2 17) 

 

Some remote technologies are integrated into a traditional tower to enhance visual observation. This combination of conventional and remote technologies may also need to be considered in a human factors context to establish the impact on operations in towers.

The prolonged exposure of the human eye to digital representation of information, bright lights and artificial ventilation might cause eye fatigue. Likewise, the new environment characterized by several audio and visual inputs might lead to alarm fatigue. Furthermore, the bi-dimensional vision, the effect of lights and the continuous movement of the eyes focus on several screens might concur in creating spatial disorientation.

4.6 Integrity of data

ATS provided in a remotely operated facility rely on the integrity of data and digital data sources, which transfer information by distributed network lines of communications. The total digitalisation of the information flow makes cybersecurity threats and corruption of data more likely. Data must be secured and protected to avoid interception, data corruption or malicious intervention (hacking).

Data reliability and liability have to be defined and set up. Contingency procedures, in case of wrong, corrupted and unreliable data must be developed and implemented.


5 Conclusions and recommendations

  1. IFATCA highlights the need for detailed safety assessments and human factor analyses in remotely operated facilities.
  2. A definition of the impact of working models and procedures in a highly technological environment with particular regard to liability for the operators, as well as more experience with the new concept, is considered necessary.
  3. IFATCA detects the urgency for concise definitions with particular regard to the definition of modes, of operations, including low and high traffic volumes.
  4. In IFATCA’s view there is a need for minimum international requirements for all known aspects of RTO.
  5. At this time IFATCA opposes the performance of simultaneous RTO and/or Visual Tower by one ATCO.
  6. IFATCA recommends establishing endorsements, which are in line with new procedural and technical requirements for ATCOs, AFISOs as well as ATSEPs.
  7. IFATCA recommends the introduction of transition training and programs from conventional to remote tower operations.
  8. IFATCA points out the need for the deployment of contingency procedures to be in place.
  9. IFATCA calls for data integrity.

6 Abbreviations

ADC Aerodrome Controller

AFIS Aerodrome Flight Information Service

APP Approach Centre

ATSEP Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel

CNS Communication, navigation and surveillance

CWP Controller Working Position

EFS Electronic Flight Strips

OTW Out-of-the-Window

ROT Remotely operated tower

RTO Remote Tower Operations

RTC Remote Tower Centre

RTM Remote Tower Module


7 Regulatory references

Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/340, 20th February 2015.

ICAO Annex 11, Air Traffic Services, 14th Ed., July 2016.

ICAO, DOC 4444, PANS-ATM, Procedures for Navigation Services – Air Traffic Management, 16th Ed., November 2016.

EASA, Guidance Material on the implementation of the remote tower concept for singe mode of operation, Issue 1, 3rd July 2015

EASA, Explanatory Note to Decision 2015/015/R, 3rd July 2015.

EGHD, The Human Dimension in Remote Tower Operations, Position paper, December 2017.

IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual (2017).

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

December 30, 2019   335   Jean-Francois Lepage    2018    

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