Traditionally, airports have an air control tower from where operators guide landing and takeoff of all aircraft. Every airplane scheduled to take off or land must first get clearance from the control tower. Even in modern airports where a few activities are handled remotely, there’s usually an Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit on-site.
However, traditional means would be challenged when the Scandinavian Mountains Airport, with IATA code SCR, opened!
This Swedish airport changes everything. With its entire ATC unit located more than 186 miles away, it becomes the first completely remote airport in history.
Completely, Not Partially Remote
Before we go into the details of the Scandinavian Mountains Airport, it’s important to understand the difference between remote airport operations and a fully remote airport.
Many airports already handle some of their operations remotely. But, at the Ornskoldsvik airport (also in Sweden), for example, the traffic controller is located more than 100 miles away.
The Scandinavian Mountains Airport goes a step further when it comes to remote management. In this case, it’s not just the traffic controllers who are located miles away from the airport – it’s the entire air traffic control unit. Even the air traffic control tower is missing.
A Little Background
Also known as the Salen Trysil Airport, the Scandinavian Mountains Airport is located in Dalarna, Sweden which is a few kilometers off the Norwegian border. Most people travel to Salen and Trysil to ski, especially in the winter months.
Unfortunately, until the opening of the SCR airport, accessing the area wasn’t easy. The shortest route was via a flight to either Stockholm or Oslo, followed by a five-hour journey by road. Not many ski enthusiasts were excited by the long journey. The Scandinavian Mountains Airport was opened to ease access to the popular ski destination.
A major challenge with the airport, however, is the low traffic numbers. The Scandinavian Mountains Airport isn’t busy enough to generate enough revenue to sustain an onsite air traffic control unit. It is busiest during the ski season. But after that, it handles only a handful of flights. Combine that with the adverse weather conditions and it becomes very difficult to permanently station ATC staff at the location.
So, to cut costs as well as increase efficiency, the management decided to outsource air traffic control to the Star Alliance Carrier SAS. SAS runs all the air traffic control operations from Sundsvall, located 300 kilometers away.
An Airport Like No Other
The most prominent feature at the Scandinavian Mountains Airport is the numerous surveillance cameras. Dozens of cameras, alongside multiple sensors, are installed throughout the airfields and the immediate surroundings to transmit data to the traffic control center at Sundsvall. The data is captured in a 360-degree view but often condensed into a 225-degree arc.
Augmented Reality (AR) technology, meanwhile, allows the operators to see the critical flight and radar information via live video feed. All this information is relayed on HD screens, with external speakers installed at various points on the airport to ensure that every sound is captured.
The airport currently accommodates three routes, the first two being once-a-week flights from Heathrow and Aalborg and the other one a twice-a-week flight from Copenhagen. Since its opening, SCR has received two flights, with the first one landing on December 22, 2019. All the flights are conducted using Airbus A320neo jets.
The First of Many
Commenting on the development, Professor David Gillen of the University of British Columbia predicts that remote air traffic control is going to become more common, especially in smaller airports with small aircraft. “It allows a single ATC team to operate multiple remote airports, significantly optimizing the airport system,” he says.