Sept. 29, 2016

A mobile air traffic control tower will operate at Virginia’s Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) for several weeks this fall, as part of the airport’s participation in demonstrating the safety and validity of its planned remote tower.

Currently being tested by Saab Sensis and the FAA, the remote tower concept uses an array of high-definition cameras and sensors to allow controllers in a remote central facility to serve airports that don’t have towers.

At Leesburg Executive, the temporary mobile tower will be located on the ramp and manned by air traffic controllers, who will control normal traffic and run scripted tests during the hours that the mobile tower is open. Inbound pilots will be required to make radio contact with mobile tower controllers when they are within 4nm of the airport.

Plans call for the mobile tower to be operational from Oct. 11 through Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, and from Nov. 6 to 10 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Leesburg Executive will post the mobile tower’s hours of operation on AWOS (the Automated Weather Observing System) and via a (NOTAM).

“Proving the remote-tower concept requires in-depth testing, and this phase is a significant step,” said John Kelley, president, Kelley Aviation and NBAA Access Committee member. “We can’t emphasize enough that because this phase involves a temporary tower and different flight procedures, we encourage all pilots, even those intimately familiar with JYO operations, to read their NOTAMs even more carefully than usual for the next few months.”

The mobile tower on the ramp will assist in data gathering efforts for the airport’s remote tower, which has been set up by Saab Sensis inside Leesburg Executive’s terminal building. During this phase of testing, the indoor remote tower will not be talking to aircraft, only controllers in the mobile tower on the ramp will do that. Controllers in the remote tower will be communicating with each other and gathering data in a passive mode as if they were controlling traffic.

Contracted aircraft will conduct scripted operations as part of the testing. The contracted flights will be infrequent, and any flight that could interfere with Leesburg Executive’s regular traffic flow will be immediately suspended to ensure normal, uninterrupted access to the airport.

Each phase of the remote-tower testing, including the plan and post-test results, is reviewed by a safety panel made up of FAA representatives, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, pilots, and industry representatives including NBAA. The data gathered during the mobile-tower phase will help Saab Sensis validate the remote-tower concept with FAA. If these tests are deemed successful, further testing will take place next spring.