Future-proofing and accelerating upgrades.
Because the DiTo project represents a significant technological overhaul, the systems outside the scope of the conventional DiTo equipment (visual presentation, airport equipment – mast etc.) need to be factored in in an integration and deployment capacity. The technical architecture study and workstream addresses this and has the added benefit of enabling skeyes to 'future-proof' their operations at Liege and Charleroi.
By focusing operations from DiTo Namur, it is of utmost importance that systems have maximum functionality from the get-go. An indirect benefit of this, is that an accelerated approach can be taken in the update and procurement of new systems and technical equipment (much of which will be identified with the technical architecture planning). Because novel approaches and philosophies towards technical implementations will be used at Namur RTC for the first time, many of these can be viewed as proof of performance, or validation for such approaches that can be used elsewhere within skeyes. Therefore, the DiTo Namur implementation can be seen to be an enabler and accelerator for a more standardised approach to technical upgrades within skeyes as an organisation, not just within the ATM environments of Liege and Charleroi.
One such example of this is the new Wide Area Network (WAN) which provides improved levels of redundancy and resilience, as well as sufficient capacity for the various data exchanges between the airports and DiTo Namur. It also acts as an important enabler for other ancillary technical systems within scope of the Namur RTC implementation. Many of the systems in place at DiTo Namur will be fully dependent on the WAN, which can lead to new, more resilient architecture or implementation solutions. These can then be deployed at other sites, essentially replicating the architecture at DiTo Namur.
From an architecture perspective, it is therefore important that enablers like the WAN are appropriately represented during the planning phase, not only to ensure that new technological implementations are making maximum use of the infrastructure, but also to ensure that there are no issues or unforeseen impacts of operating such systems in a new network environment.
Focussing on human impacts.
Complementing the technical dimension were the equally important considerations taken in close coordination with operational staff from a more human factors-centric viewpoint.
New technologies implemented in DiTo Namur, such as augmented information within the Visual Presentation, will ease operations from an ATCO perspective, reducing workload and providing a more comprehensive overview of airport operations thanks to hardware such as the PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) camera. At both Liege and Charleroi, for example it is useful to have such capabilities due to considerable volume of operations taking place from the opposite side of the airport to the physical tower, and in the case of Liege, the improved ability to monitor multiple runways. Having a remote tower will therefore provide an improved view of ground movements, ensuring both airports continue to run smoothly.
Secondly, the migration of operations to DiTo Namur ensures training is focused on a uniform environment rather than catering more individually to the technical specificities within the physical towers at Liege and Charleroi. This is a much more efficient option, both from a human factors perspective as well as from a cost perspective. With this in mind, it is also important to note that one of the key philosophies behind the DiTo Namur remote tower centre was that it should mirror the physical towers as closely as possible, thereby ensuring that the operational migration and ATCO familiarisation period is seamless, while also allowing flexibility to switch remote tower modules to either of the airports. This is further aided by the Development RTM platform, located at Steenokkerzeel, intended to aid with the trialling and acceptance phase, ensuring there is already an element of familiarity before DiTo Namur is operational.
The human considerations in the decision to migrate operations to DiTo Namur cannot be understated. The efficiencies they bring will equip skeyes well for the future in the event of traffic increases (which is likely, especially at Liege, which is vying for the spot of 5th largest cargo airport in Europe), while simultaneously fostering an improved operational approach of immediate benefit to ATCOs.
The importance of an architecture framework.
It goes without saying that extensive planning and coordination is required for an undertaking of such scale and complexity. Consequently, an important dimension of the DiTo migration is the Technical Architecture and transition planning. Egis is playing a key role in this workstream, which will provide skeyes with a DiTo-encompassing top-down view of all the in-scope technical systems to be integrated with the DiTo hardware at RTC Namur. The technical architecture aspect of this project will help simplify many of the technical details and provide a greater degree of oversight into the key enablers, milestones and interdependencies on which the technical migration will depend.
From a system architecture standpoint, Liege and Charleroi are already complex ATM environments. So, replacing the natural ‘out the window’ view provided by a physical tower with a virtual DiTo solution raises questions about what is needed for the future system architecture. The main system elements required to open a new operational centre for aerodrome control must be identified and broken down for example. An architecture framework presents a straightforward way to do this. It incorporates various systems, networks, and communication/surveillance chains, within the DiTo environment, delivering a clear set of key components and their corresponding interactions at a system and sub-system level.
An overarching philosophy can aid this process further, providing steer on the locations of the system deployment; a local or a virtualised solution, for example. In many cases, the latter is a more simple, pragmatic approach to take in the initial implementation.
As part of this framework, snapshots of the ‘As-Is’ and ‘To-Be’ ATM situations at a system level for the regional airports and Namur have now been developed. The primary aim of this was to ensure that all technical systems within scope were appropriately represented in the planning phase, so that when the migration and implementation phase is initiated, a clear view on all intricacies of each system will already have been achieved, allowing a seamless deployment and transition. A consolidated set of system-level models will support this, providing an interactive, visual means of viewing the proposed architecture from a top-down perspective.