With air passenger numbers set to double to 8.2bn by 2037, and closer scrutiny on the industry’s environmental impact, the aviation sector must take necessary steps to improve efficiency. The general worldwide shift to automation and digitalisation also calls for industry advancements.

Roger himself has been a part of the conversations surrounding their development, testing and, more importantly, the insurance impacts, for just shy of a decade. In the article, he explores how they can pose both benefits and risks to the wider aviation industry.

How do virtual control towers work and how will they benefit?

The remote-control systems employ cameras and sensors which are expected to improve safety and efficiency as well as bring cost benefits, especially to smaller airports with limited opening times. These digital systems will also generate new features, such as automated object detection and virtual safety nets.

London City Airport is the first UK site to move to remote air traffic control towers. In fact, a brand-new airport is set to open in Sälen, Sweden, and will be the first airport to rely on a virtual air traffic control system, operated by controllers nearly 300km away.

What risks could they bring?

Despite the significant positive impact technology has had on the aviation sector, it can pose risks that can’t be overlooked. The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max fleet was a stark reminder of the challenges integrating new technology into human operated systems can bring.

Roger commented: “Air traffic controllers will face similar challenges as they face increased automation and digitalisation”. Tragic accidents have also occurred as a result of failed technology, and the possible reliance of one controller for multiple airports could call for human error.

In addition, Roger stressed the importance of training standards, and how controllers must maintain the traditional skills required to operate in the job as they would need today. As with any technology, they also face the risk of cyber attacks or outages. If numerous towers are reliant on one data source and power outlet, one outage could bring down the system and lead to diversions, delays and cancellations of hundreds of flights.

Ultimately, it is very likely that these remote towers will become a common feature within airports, and as a result it is increasingly important that insures can correctly assess the risks.

Roger concluded: “Indications are that the modernisation of air traffic management will further improve safety in the commercial aviation industry, but there are also likely to be challenges with the growing dependency on IT systems and data, as well as how air traffic controllers adapt to new and more complex ways of working.”

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