Air traffic controller Belgocontrol to become ‘Skeyes’
The Belgian air traffic controller, Belgocontrol, changes its name to Skeyes, a combination of ‘sky’ and ‘eyes’. The new name is the first step in a major renewal operation with some remarkable innovations, such as digital control towers and the traffic of drones.
The public company is investigating the construction of a digital control tower – in practice this could also be a hall – from which the airports of Charleroi and Liège can be monitored instead of modernizing the existiing traffic control towers. In such a digital tower, air traffic controllers look at a 360-degree screen with camera images that are transmitted live from the tarmac.
The great advantage of the digital system is augmented reality. For example, on the screen a green block appears when it concerns a departing aircraft, or a blue block in the case of a landing plane. Air traffic controllers receive thus extra information that they cannot see with the naked eye.
“With new technologies, we can make arriving traffic run more smoothly”, says chief operations officer (COO), Peggy Devestel. “Then we will no longer measure the distance between planes, but the time.” After all, in Brussels there are only two runways, by east wind one. Since one plane is faster than another, capacity is better utilized.
Time is also saved with departing planes, although the capacity is less pressing in this case. “If one aircraft goes north and the other one south, they can depart 3 miles from each other instead of the standard distance of 5 miles.”
Merge with military airspace
Another innovation is that the army will no longer be able to take over the airspace just like that. Until now, parts of the airspace have been closed for a certain period of time. Ordinary airplanes will then have to make a detour.
However, from the end of 2019, civil and military airspace will merge (the military will move in with the other air traffic controllers in Steenokkerzeel, near Zaventem). “From then on, we will be able to close the airspace in a much more targeted and efficient way”, explains Dominique Dehaene, spokesperson for Skeyes.
This does not mean that airplanes will now follow the shortest route to their destination. The unification of the European airspace must first be completed. Despite the efforts of the EU Commission, this is still fragmented.
More traffic of drones
Another challenge is to fit in the drones into classic air traffic. Skeyes has already launched a website on which drone pilots can see where they can have their drone take off. With parcel services, organ taxis and other flights, they are taking up more and more space.
“At the moment, our airspace is not saturated yet”, says Dehaene, “but we must also ensure that traffic runs smoothly and safely in the future. Airplanes are getting bigger and bigger and also have fewer empty seats. The current efforts, such as the faster landing of airplanes in a row, are not enough to absorb the expected growth.”
The International Association of Airlines (IATA) predicts that the number of passengers will double in the next twenty years. It also warns that the sector is facing a major infrastructure crisis because both airports and air traffic control cannot meet the growing demand.
Until 2040, the number of flights with delays of up to two hours will increase sevenfold, warned Eurocontrol recently. Most delays are due to a lack of capacity and staff.