In a 1999 movie (Pushing Tin), a flight controller is a passenger on a plane and tells the flight attendant that he needs to speak to the person controlling the plane. The flight attendant tells him the pilot is very busy to which the controller responds, “…you really think the pilot is controlling this plane? That would really scare me.” We wonder what that fictional character would think flying into Loveland Colorado. Their Colorado Remote Tower Project. While there’s still a human flight controller, they aren’t physically located at the airport and rely on remote cameras and radar so the controller can be located elsewhere.
The subject airport is the Northern Colorado Regional Airport and is the state’s busiest airport that has no tower. While the concept — generically known as Remote and Virtual Tower or RVT — dates back to 2002, its adoption is only now starting to pick up steam. An airport in Sweden was the first to go live for normal use in April of 2015, but the Colorado installation is the first approved in the United States. If the official site is a little too dry for you, there’s a CBS report with a video that gives you a quick overview of what’s happening. Or dive in with the demonstration video you can see below.
The technology is straightforward and you have to wonder why it has taken so long. In addition to putting controllers in centralized locations, the system hopes to take advantage of video augmentation, although you could argue you could do that just as well for a controller in place. If you watch the video, you’ll see the centerpiece is a multiscreen virtual window. We wondered if a head-mounted set of VR goggles would have been a better choice.
You can only wonder what will happen first? Complete removal of the human in place of an artificial intelligence like a self-driving car? Or a giant complex of flight controllers in a high rise in a third world country underbidding all the other flight control companies to provide remote services? We figure one of these will happen if not both.
If you want to play at home, [Balint] had a system you’d enjoy, even though the live part is currently down, the project details and videos are still around. We’ve had lots of posts about tracking nearby planes using ADS-B, but one company now listens to all of them.