Flemish regional airports get one digital control tower

Air traffic controller Skeyes is also preparing a digital control center in Flanders, which will serve the airports of Antwerp, Ostend, and Kortrijk. Skeyes and the Flemish government have reached an agreement on this.

The decision that by 2026, air traffic at Charleroi and Liège airports, which are 100 km apart, will be remotely managed from a single digital control center in Namur was already known.

Ten years after the previous agreement, the federal government has a new management contract with Skeyes. The agreement, which the Council of Ministers gave the green light on Friday, is for five years.

Six locations under consideration

Exactly where the digital tower for the Flemish regional airports will be located has not yet been decided – it is expected this year. Six locations are still under consideration: three in West Flanders (Diksmuide, Jabbeke, Wevelgem), two in East Flanders (Evergem, Ghent), and one in Antwerp (Grobbendonk).

According to the current timeline, that digital tower should be operational in 2027 or 2028. With a digital tower, air traffic controllers no longer sit in a physical control tower at the airport but have masts there with cameras that transmit images to a room with screens at another location.

‘A quantum leap in terms of air traffic safety’

“The speed of technological evolutions is unimaginable,” Skeyes chief Johan Decuyper said yesterday at the presentation of a prototype Digital Tower Test Center that it has set up at its site in Steenokkerzeel, near Brussels Airport.

A few years ago, the idea was to install digital towers only as a backup for the airport’s control towers. Still, those plans were soon revised because the digital tower means “a quantum leap in terms of air traffic safety,” dixit Decuyper.

“The new applications will better inform and alert air traffic controllers to potential risks.” For example, thanks to the cameras, which are equipped with infrared, air traffic controllers will be able to clearly see the exact location of aircraft on the screens, even at night or in fog, which displays the horizon of their respective airports over the full 360°.

Thanks to augmented reality, additional information can be projected at each aircraft, and the cameras can detect drones even before they can be seen with the naked eye.

First for Namur

In Wallonia, the first digital control tower in Belgium will be in Namur. It will manage flight movements to and from Charleroi and Liège airports, normally during 2026. The foundation stone of the building, set up by Skeyes and SOWAER (Walloon Airport Company), will house that digital control tower laid about ten days ago.

Images from the cameras at Liège airport are already being transmitted to the prototype in Steenokkerzeel, soon followed by those at Charleroi. They will allow staff to be trained and to perfect the installation technologically and ergonomically so that the digital tower in Namur can be commissioned as soon as it is ready. Afterward, the test center will receive images from Flemish airports to prepare for the launch of the Flemish digital tower.

Smaller teams

With the digital towers, fewer air traffic controllers will eventually be needed. While there is currently still a team of supervisors in each airport control tower, in the digital tower, there will only be one team for the various airports managed there.

Air traffic controllers will also obtain multiple licenses, allowing them to supervise flights to and from the different airports in the digital tower. That should allow them to be deployed more efficiently. According to Peggy Divested, Skeyes’ operation director, an air traffic controller will need a maximum of two weeks’ training to switch from on-site air traffic control to a digital tower.

Skeyes chief Decuyper is confident that Brussels Airport will also get a digital tower at a later stage. “We are working in steps. First, there is the digital tower in Namur, then the one for the Flemish airports will follow,” Decuyper says. “But I am sure we will eventually migrate Brussels Airport to a digital tower.”

Left to right: Per Ahl, CEO of SAAB, Johan Decuyper, CEO of Skeyes, and Nicolas Thisquen, President of SOWAER /Skeyes

New ‘greener’ management contract

Today, the federal government also signed a new five-year management contract with Skeyes. For the first time, it includes contributing to reducing aviation’s climate and environmental impact and a section on financial transparency. “Never before has such a contract been so comprehensive and ambitious,” says Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo).

Skeyes gets more power to control environmental impact and noise pollution, for example. This can be done through traffic management and flight procedures, but also by continuing to modulate terminal fees based on the environmental performance of the aircraft using Brussels Airport and by promoting more environmentally friendly and quieter flight procedures, such as freeing up more space to erect additional wind turbines on land.

Skeyes will also cooperate more with Defense, in line with the Single European Sky rules. So that flight paths can be more optimized, which should reduce aviation emissions by 10%.

The text further introduces a performance dialogue. This should lead to continuous improvement in the quality of services. In doing so, the contract holds back a financial incentive of 1,8 million euros per year. That money can be spent on projects for greater inclusion, staff welfare, and greening of operations.

It is the fourth agreement signed by the federal government with the air traffic controller. The previous one – then with its predecessor Belgocontrol – dates back ten years and expired in 2019. It has since been extended at least 14 times.


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