Saab's mock-up of its remote air traffic control tower in Sundsvall, Sweden.
Courtesy of Saab

Meet the future of aviation navigation.

By Claire Zillman
October 26, 2015

The future of aviation navigation is underway in a small Swedish town.

The New York Times reports that early next year, airplanes taking off and landing at the airport in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden will be directed by an air traffic controller who’s located about 100 miles away in Sundsvall, Sweden, making it the world’s first remotely controlled airport.

The concept, which is still being tested, is aimed at serving small, remote airports as well as upping efficiency and safety at huge urban hubs where airspace is growing increasingly crowded. The system’s digital video cameras, antennas, sensors, and microphones allow an air traffic controller working from afar to monitor air traffic at an airport as if he was on-site.

The Times reports that LFV, Sweden’s state-owned air navigation service provider, began exploring the idea of remote air traffic control in earnest in 2006 when it asked Saab, the Swedish aeronautics and technology company, to build a prototype system that could be easily monitored by licensed controllers and would meet international safety standards. The system that Saab came up with was installed at Ornskoldsvik and Sundsvall airports in 2012, and Swedish regulators could certify it as early as this week.

Security of such a system is, of course, a major concern. To protect against hackers, the data beamed from the camera tower at Ornskoldsvik to the remote control center in Sundsvall through a fiber-optic cable is scrambled via dedicated hardware and encryption software, according to the Times. Saab also uses an algorithm to ensure that images have not been tampered with during the transmission.

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