Airport (re)construction is a money and work intensive affair; Both the construction period and putting it into operation can be successful and not so successful. The time from beginning of construction work until full operation should be as short as possible, yet not so short that bad decisions are being made, or accidents happen. How to reduce the risk? Use an air traffic control tower simulator!
It is common to think about ATC training centers as a place for education of air traffic controllers. However, with the right functionality available, it can also be of great value for evaluating plans for airport construction or re-construction. For a large airport or an ANSP responsible for many airports, it might very well be worth the effort to establish a minor, low cost, tower simulator in order to make sure that airport investments are realized as smoothly and safely as possible.
There are many interests related to airport (re)construction: Financial, safety, airline companies, construction work experts, fire department, gate services, and air traffic control. Solutions selected, order of implementation, and timing are all important aspects for all the parties. How can all these be brought together? Let’s have a look.
Airport Modeling and Traffic Scenarios
In a tower simulator for training of air traffic controllers, one must obviously be able to model the airport, including buildings, parking stands, pushback procedures, taxiways, runway entries and exits, even flying patterns and procedures.
To apply training sessions on this model, one must also be able to create training scenarios realized as exercises that an air traffic controller can work with. A scenario can include regular air traffic, vehicles, winter operations, fire situations, and so on. Not surprisingly, this is the core functionality of an air traffic control tower simulator.
Now, let’s be open minded and apply the above as follows:
- The tower model doesn’t need to be of the existing airport, but of a (proposed) future version of the airport. Many such versions can be made.
- Exercises can be made for visualization of operational scenarios for the proposed future airport version. The same exercise can be run on different proposed versions, in order to reveal weaknesses and find the best candidate model.
- Various stake holders (airlines, ATC, airport maintenance, safety experts, etc.) can participate in sessions run on the final, most promising proposal of the future in order to make sure nothing is overlooked or forgotten.
When the future version of the airport is decided, it can be modeled in the various states it will be in during the construction. For example:
- Some existing taxiways and parking stands are closed. Adjusted taxi routes and maybe more distant parking stands are established, with bus connections. This produces a new, intermediate, version of the airport, where an area is isolated for the construction work.
- For a larger project, the previous point might be realized in several steps: Opening some new areas for use while closing others, and so on.
Each phase can be modeled separately, and operational scenarios can be made for each. The transition between the phases will be short: Opening / closing of a geographical area can be an over-night event. This way, the whole project plan can be examined in detail before the first day of construction work.
To make sure that involved parties are well informed about the plans, educational scenarios can be run, even in an auditorium, in order to visualize the new traffic patterns and explain the thoughts behind the project. Even video sequences can be recorded and distributed or published on-line. The following pictures are screenshots from eCoach, showing example views of the same airport area, after "moving around":
Figure 1: Ground View
Figure 2: From West
Figure 3: From East
The above are still images, but this is a simulator, so the aircraft will follow piloting commands such as pushback, taxi, etc., and will then automatically follow the procedures as defined. This way, the user can observe exactly how the traffic will behave when the airport is finished.
So how can all this be realized? Since we know most about our own product, eCoach, the following is a scenario where eCoach is the ATC tower simulator used.
In fact, all the activities described above under “Airport Modeling and Traffic Scenarios” can be performed at a single office desk. The software tool to use would be the eCoach Exercise Designer (can also be used as an Airspace Planner), which can be used to model the airport, design traffic patterns, and create exercises. The exercises can be run locally on the model produced, and even presented in 3D at attached computer displays. It is possible to move around in the model, zoom in etc., in order to scrutinize the smallest details. The Exercise Designer includes all the piloting functionality of eCoach, so the traffic can be manipulated as exercises are run again and again for the best possible understanding. Recording and playback are also available. Automation can be used to ensure smooth traffic flow for close observation.
The story could end here, but two more options exist:
- The results from the eCoach Exercise Designer are computer files that can be brought to an eCoach simulator installation for larger presentations. For example, after several bad ideas have been terminated and thus solved a lot of wasted effort. Such a simulator installation can be based on TV monitors as the tower view. In such an installation, several people can participate and the scenarios can be run more realistically with distributed responsibilities etc.
- To go even further, the solution believed to be the final one, can be brought to a full-scale ATC training center using eCoach, where the scenarios can be finally verified. This step would only require loading a few computer files and briefing of the personnel to participate.
For further reading, see our downloads page.
Figure 4: Using the eCoach Airspace Planner