Recent years have seen increased interest in air traffic control communications systems from air navigation service providers as they seek to more efficiently deploy their resources, especially across small airports, airfields and aerodromes. Enabling less-developed areas to upgrade airfields to become suitable for commercial traffic provides real benefits to the local community and economy.

Widely referred to as ‘remote tower concepts’, these systems can enable airfield upgrades with a minimum of cost and environmental impact on the local site. By removing the need for a physical control tower, the civil works required for an airfield upgrade can be minimised to the surfacing of runways, installation of masts and single-storey buildings.

Park Air Systems has released the customisable Small Aerodrome Air Traffic System (SAATS), which supports these developments by supplying VHF or UHF communications and basic meteorology systems in cabinets suitable for outdoor installation. The system is expandable, with local and remote-control interfaces, suitable for renewable backup power systems, and mast-mounted cameras and sensors.

"As a world leader in the provision of air traffic control communications systems, Park Air’s history stretches back over 50 years. The company’s latest radio, the T6, is its most advanced product to date."

As one of the world leaders in provision of air traffic control communications systems, Park Air’s history stretches back over 50 years. The company’s latest radio, the T6 from the Sapphire portfolio, is its most advanced product to date and is at the heart of SAATS.

SAATS combines the class-leading performance of the T6 with a suite of complementary services to support remote locations across the globe. In its most basic form, SAATS is supplied as an outdoor cabinet housing the class-leading T6 VHF or UHF software defined radio, an S4 IP Controller, basic meteorology, masts, antennas and sensors. The latest evolution of the T6 range of professional ATC ground-toair radios sets new standards for bringing high levels of safety, efficiency and performance into the smallest, lightest package Park Air has ever produced. To provide control from a remote tower system, SAATS includes options for digital IP or traditional analogue interfaces for connections back to the control site.

Local control

As a last resort contingency, or for busier operational periods, SAATS can also be provided in a locally controlled configuration. A single Park Air S4 IP Controller can be connected directly to the radio channels providing full operational control, with main/ standby radio pair configurable for automatic changeover. The S4 IP Controller delivers comprehensive remote operation of Park Air ground-to-air radios from single or multiple user positions and includes a touchscreen, dual headset sockets and integrated loudspeaker.

Customers can add to this entry-level system to develop a solution suitable for their own aerodrome needs, or to continue to meet capacity as their aerodrome expands. Modular options can also be selected to provide multiplexor or VSAT interfaces. This minimalist approach allows customers to access advanced technological solutions at an affordable price point, which can then be customised to meet their specific requirements.

Most remote and digital tower concepts revolve around IP systems. This leads to a real opportunity for integrators to virtualise multiple systems onto a small number of physical servers. The minimisation of the number of boxes required to build a system allows all of the control systems required for a local airfield to fit into one or two standard racks. Not only is this a saving on space, but also on the power requirements and thermal efficiency of the system. As the thermal efficiency of the system improves, it also decreases the air-cooling requirement, and so further reduces running costs and infrastructure. The Park Air T6 range sets new standards for high efficiency and low power consumption, delivering the lowest running costs and through-life resource dependencies.

"The minimisation of the number of boxes required to build a system allows all of the control systems required for a local airfield to fit into one or two standard racks."

One of the greatest advantages of reducing the energy consumption of systems for small airfields is that it makes the use of local renewable energy systems for operations a real possibility. Park Air has successfully trialled the use of solar panels for backup power, which takes pressure off power supply requirements in remote locations where power networks are known to be unreliable. If systems are consolidated onto servers designed for low power consumption, it is possible to approach a concept where the critical airfield systems can reliably run from a renewable energy source. This drastically increases the viability of sustaining critical operations as well as reducing the environmental impact of the airfield.

The logical continuation of the consolidation of systems and minimisation of external infrastructure requirements is to ask why a building is required at all for these systems installations. Many other industries, by necessity, already house critical control systems in robust outdoor cabinets with their own independent power sources. If the aviation industry were to follow this lead then the requirements for a high-quality domestic airfield could be as low as having enough space and the availability of a telecommunications backhaul to a control centre. Everything else could be supplied as an integrated system with minimal ground works, outdoor cabinets, masts and sensors.

Once again, Park Air is leading the way by deploying critical air traffic control communication solutions in cabinets suitable for outdoor use.

Updated systems

Basing the system capability on IP technologies also allows remote monitoring and updating of equipment. Step one of securing the digital surface of airfield systems is ensuring that all software is promptly patched as new risks are discovered.

Park Air offer a software update service for its products that alerts maintainers when there is a new software update file available from Park Air’s website. The service also includes a server-based utility to install updates remotely to all network-connected Park Air equipment simultaneously or in groups.

Ultimately, this type of system could enable a hub and spoke arrangement, whereby a single control centre is set up to be in charge of multiple airfields that would previously have been economically unviable to upgrade and operate as licensed airfields.

In large countries with many small remote communities, deploying such technologies and systems would lead to significant improvements in infrastructure and consequential benefits would be seen in better access to education, medical facilities and social care. Further benefits may also be seen in a growth in local business in those regions and in revenue for the operators of the airport services.

Development of SAATS typifies the continual investment in innovation undertaken at Park Air and the passion that exists for pushing the boundaries of possibilities in new areas of technology. Danny Milligan, managing director of Park Air Systems, says "At Park Air we foster a culture of innovation. We continually invest in our products and our people to ensure we can deliver the best performing and most reliable solutions to our customers now, and for many years to come."