By Jeff Todd

LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) — A new high-tech experiment is underway at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport that could have ramifications around the country.

The Colorado Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics is nearing completion on the Remote Tower Project.

unmanned airport tower 10pkg transfer frame 1354 Unmanned Airport Control Tower Installed In Northern Colorado

(CBS)

“It’s the first one that’s going to combine radar and track-based information with the video-based information that will come from the cameras to provide an even better situational picture of what’s happening here,” said David Ulane the Director of the CDOT Division of Aeronautics.

Three masts filled with cameras stretch along the airport in Loveland. The cameras stream into a room that acts as a virtual tower.

 

unmanned airport tower 10pkg transfer frame 2040 Unmanned Airport Control Tower Installed In Northern Colorado

(CBS)

“We’ll have basically what looks like a video wall,” said Ulane. “When you’re standing in front of them make it look like from these cameras you’re looking out the windows of a traditional air traffic control tower cab.”

NCRA opened in the 1960s and has never had an air traffic tower. Most airports in Colorado do not. However, with more than 90,000 take off and landings, and a growing population in Norther Colorado the airport is getting busier.

“We have a lot of different types of aircraft that use this airport,” said Jason Licon, the Airport Director at NCRA. “This will help us maintain safety for all the users.”

“A more efficient facility, a safer facility and certainly one that if airline service resumes has a bigger economic impact on this community,” said Ulane.

The Division of Aeronautics has spent more than $8 million on the remote tower project. It’s worked hand in hand with the FAA. Testing will begin in the next few weeks and last for more than a year. The hope is to have a fully operation virtual air control up and running by the end of 2020.

State officials are looking to expand the project in the future.

“We have a number of our airports in the state that could use air traffic controls services like this, even part of the year,” said Ulane. Montrose, Telluride, Hayden, Durango and Gunnison are some of the airports with commercial service and no air traffic control tower.

In Loveland, the hope is the new technology could return commercial service there.

“It will allow additional traffic to come in in a safe way. As we grow over time it will continue to be able to accommodate that growth,” said Licon. “Having a safe airport is critical to market to those airlines.”

For more information on the remote tower project: https://www.codot.gov/programs/remote-tower/programs/remote-tower

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

Comments (25)
  1. Adam Ellsworth says:

    I would not imagine you could build something like that for less than $8…

    1. Ben Hyden says:

      And it was worth every dime!

  2. Ronald Jackson says:

    JUST LIKE DRIVER LESS CARS, BOONDOGGLE A LOT OF CRASHES ONLY IN PLANES A LOT MORE SERIOUS, NO THANKS.

    1. Robert Boofer says:

      The particular airport spoke of in the report didn’t have any air traffic control what so ever before the automated one being established, so your point is a mute one.

      1. Eric du Toit says:

        I think the word you are looking for is moot. The point is moot. Mute would be what is on your remote or someone who can’t speak.

  3. Sean Loughry says:

    8 bucks! Now that’s awesome! Probably should have spent the 8 on a proofreader.

  4. Aaliya Shaikh says:

    very well admin!!I love the way you narrate the post with topic. keep it up.
    From: openonchristmashours

  5. Jim Bryant says:

    Nothing can go wrong…go wrong…go wrong..

  6. Trump is really keeping costs down. $8 project – Good job Mr. President! I can throw in a nickel for the next upgrade.

  7. James A Miller says:

    $8 !!! Another example of extravagant government waste!

    For those being concerned about the automation of the control tower, please notice that it has NOT had a human. It has been UNMANED. I doubt that this is going to be worse than before. It does seem to be a good way to test the project.

  8. It has been a uncontrolled airport/space forever, this may make it better

  9. James Whitehead says:

    Only the government would call spending $8 million to create a high tech tower, is a cost savings over the ~$400,000 cost to build a smaller tower. If a private firm spent twenty dollars to save one dollar over and over again, they would go bankrupt.

  10. Michael Halstead says:

    It appears that the control aspect will still be provided with people. It’s just that the people controllers will be doing the controlling from somewhere off site in the “virtual tower room”.

  11. Hmm… remote managed airports. Let’s see, what would be the weakest link here.. could it be the NETWORK. So in a time of cyber attacks, an airport “tower” going dark could be, tragic!

  12. Justin Denial says:

    Better than nothing – But requires reliable power, don’t see how you can use bi-nocs to track ground control, OH, and if you read the fine print – try $8 million. But they will be able to switch to multiple airports from one room – Hopefully the planes call in, and no 2 or approaching / takeoff at the same time. Anyway – Good Freakin’ Luck.

  13. Steve Barnhill says:

    sooo why the monitors in a unmaned room?

  14. “The hope is to have a fully operation virtual air control up and running by the end of 2020.”
    Yep, right on par with journalistic standards of 2018: No editors, no grammatical acuity, & no journalistic integrity. Fake News™; Fake Journalism.

  15. This is not necessarily a horrible thing yet, it’s being beta tested live with (one would assume) tons of disclaimers and precautions and will have to have been approved for only a defined period of time that ends with either tweaking this as a result of things found during the test period, pulling it all out because it demonstrated itself to be a bad idea, or possibly having to install and staff an actual ATC tower with controllers at the airport. That last action sometimes happens when new technology is tested at an airport and the increase in traffic as a result then mandates a tower be installed and operated.

    There’s also precedent for this. Controllers at LAX airport have been using a camera to see parts of the airport there for years. The feed from the cameras is displayed on a monitor in the tower for controllers to use as an additional view. As with all airports, there are blind spots on the ramps and sometimes ends of runways that can only be covered via camera, or, a second control tower. Oakland airport has aa 2nd tower for this reason.

    That said, there ARE a few things that happen when there was previously no ATC at an airport, and then it’s announced ATC services are available – pilots assume ATC is ATC, meaning, there will be surveillance of the movement area (a/c moving on the ramps, taxiways, and runways) as well as in the sky within a few miles of the runway. In a nutshell, pilots relax their “see and avoid” posture a bit. It only takes a bit of relaxation for a waterfall of events to result in an incident.

    The State and FAA had to consider a myriad of impacts and possibilities, get it all approved through their respective legal departments and ATC facilities that would interact with this – in this case both Denver ARTCC and Denver Approach Control at DIA. If nothing else, the controller’s union (NATCA) at DIA would have to have been involved at some level. Let’s just assume this is NOT anything a controller’s union would support. Who are they going to extract dues from? A computer? NATCA (no matter how they phrase it) may oppose it because it’s a foot in the door toward less dues payers.

    As far as costs, a tower building by itself is the least expensive part of an ATC operation at an airport. It’s a one-time expense with some ongoing maintenance expense. It’s the personnel, equipment, and ongoing maintenance that generate the highest aggregate (and ongoing) costs. The cost of such an operation is a primary concern at this stage, but becomes mostly irrelevant later on as funding for something like this becomes a normal yearly budgetary item – and therefore just part of the state and FAA’s baseline upon which things are added – so few pay attention after the initial operating year.

    Finally. ask yourself who stands to make money from this – it’ll be a contractor. Some company is the primary contractor for this test and there is always a string of sub-contractor companies that perform the bulk of the acquisition and operation of the initial test and any follow-on actions. If deemed a successful test, that same company and it’s sub-contractors can take on all tasks required (for a big price tag) to make this into an ongoing operational setup. And THAT is the point where some company makes an ongoing bundle and starts to cut corners to increase profit. It’s the point where corruption makes it’s first moves to lock in profits and setup ways to eventually shave costs in parts of the operation where it can make more profit – but eventually all the corner cutting cascades to expose holes in safety that were initially prevented, but those safeguards are later dropped for the sake of cost savings. This is where safety becomes compromised.

    In sum, there are always safety issues to be considered and monitored closely with a test like this, and close monitoring of both the test and contractor must be provided in spades with this test. Additionally, (and another primary concern) is that one has to also focus intently upon both protection of the data flows to wherever actual controllers will be located that will make ATC decisions for the airport, and, a very close watch over contracts that either extend this test, or, that take this test into permanent operational status. It’s at that point where corruption can override safety and costs can escalate faster than any entity will be willing to admit. I offer the recent coverage about the California Bullet Train cost overruns as an example.

    Bottom line – it’s an interesting test, but there are many ways a contractor might “cheat” the test to eventually get a lucrative contract. Motivation to do anything possible to have this deemed to be a successful test is very high. If this idea goes operational, any contract to provide operational ATC service using this test as a guide must be reviewed closely for loopholes that can be exploited later, and exceptionally close monitoring of both contract performance, and, any modifications to that or other contracts in the future. Air safety is the critical element of this test and any subsequent operational use, but it will become less important to the contractor over time. The key here is to have strong and persistent oversight and monitoring of all aspect of this test, looking to ensure air safety is improved over having no ATC there, and, that any benefit touted is actually a real safety improvement and worth the expense.

  16. Ferd Berfel says:

    As opposed to building a small tower and manning it. We’ve had dawn to 10 pm towers for decades. At night they revert to the ARTCC for IFR flights and CTAF for non IFR who can also contact the ARTCC or a nearby Flight Service Station.

    I can’t wait until some control room is tasked with three or four airports and it’s traffic jam hour.
    [I’m a retired GS-13 Electronic Engineer, licensed pilot, with 25 years in the FAA]

  17. Jose Jimenez says:

    i’ll be sure to avoid that airport at all costs

  18. David Anderson says:

    Sounds great. Unless the power goes out. Or there’s a computer glitch.

  19. At least I now know where NOT to fly into. That’s a relief (I suppose).

  20. In Sweden SAAB is developing the same type of system.

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