A smarter way to handle flights

The Changi Airport Control Tower. PHOTO: ST FILE

At Changi, it can get so busy that a plane lands or takes off every minute.

With a third runway and two more passenger terminals being built, air-traffic controllers are going to need all the help they can get.

To better handle the increased workload, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is investing in state-of-the art systems that will allow controllers to guide planes from a windowless room, instead of having to sit in a control tower.

This is being done even as the CAAS plans to recruit more air-traffic controllers.

The thought of pilots being guided remotely may be scary, but video and display technology has advanced to such a point that air-traffic controllers will be able to guide them safely without physically sighting the planes, experts say.

Picture air-traffic controllers operating in a room with large screens, and cameras and sensors capturing landings and take-offs. The intention here is not automation, but using tech advancements to help air-traffic controllers do their job better.

With Terminal 4 opening later this year and Terminal 5 expected to open towards the end of the next decade, Changi will eventually more than double its handling capacity to about 135 million passengers a year.

With multiple runways and terminals, moving towards the remote handling of all flights means air-traffic controllers do not need to all work from separate towers. Instead, the remote system allows better integration and coordination - possibly from working in a single control room.

This will improve the airport's overall efficiency.

If flights are better managed, there will be fewer delays for passengers, the CAAS said.

Changi also plans to retain physical control towers to complement the remote handling of flights.

When remote technology is put in place here in the coming years, Changi will likely be the first major airport in the world to be equipped to do this.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'A smarter way to handle flights'. Print Edition | Subscribe