May Managers Minute — An Update From Chris Pomeroy

By May 17, 2018Featured

Recently, there have been a handful of stories in the local press about our airport — specifically, regarding plans to replace our Air Traffic Control Tower. As you likely know, our tower is an integral and critical part of our operation. In our constrained airspace environment, our Visual Flight Rules tower provides an increased level of safety; it also helps with efficiency and air traffic flow.

Digital simulation of Friedman Memorial Airport on the monitors in Leesburg, VA.

Digital simulation of Friedman Memorial Airport on the monitors in Leesburg, Va. 

For various reasons, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is requiring us to relocate our tower by 2023. Based on industry standards, our current tower facility is outdated and needs to be replaced. If you didn’t know, the current tower is actually a “hand-me-down” that we received from another airport, back in the late-80s.

During a recent visit to the Leesburg, VA. Digital Tower facility, FMAA Board Member Larry Schoen is briefed by SAAB-Sensis Project Manager, Matt Massiano, about Digital Tower Technology and capabilities

During a recent visit to the Leesburg, VA. Digital Tower facility, FMAA Board Member Larry Schoen is briefed by SAAB-Sensis Project Manager, Matt Massiano, about Digital Tower Technology and capabilities.

The digital tower camera mast being used by SAAB-Sensis at the Leesburg, VA airport.

(Tower photo details: The digital tower camera mast being used by SAAB-Sensis at the Leesburg, VA airport.)

In our Airport Master Plan – which we completed a few years ago – a tower replacement option was analyzed. However, it only considered a traditional “stick and bricks” facility. But, let’s fast forward to today. Recent advancements in digital technology make air traffic control tower operations by cameras a viable possibility. Known as Digital Tower Technology, this complex system of cameras displays high-resolution digital video imagery onto an array of high-definition monitors in a control room. The control room is equipped with all of the necessary communications and air traffic control equipment of a traditional tower facility.

If you’re wondering what the benefits of this new technology are, we’ll explain. First, it appears this technology will be less expensive than a traditional tower facility (up to 93.75% of the cost will likely come from the FAA). Second, it provides an opportunity to augment the cameras with things like aircraft tracking and infrared to help air traffic controllers with better situational awareness. Third, over time, the maintenance and upkeep should be less expensive than a traditional tower facility. Last but not least, the control room will be a one-story facility; this will remove the need for a tall structure (which can be as high as 77 ft. to 98 ft…!). A Digital Tower at SUN will be staffed by the same professional, highly skilled, and experienced air traffic controllers who provide our current air traffic control services.

Currently, there are no FAA certified Digital Towers operating in the United States. One facility in Leesburg, Virginia, (operated by SAAB-Sensis – see attached pictures) is close to certification. Another facility will soon become operational for testing in Ft. Collins, Colorado. The FAA has stated it’s not a matter of if the technology will become a reality, it’s a matter of when. Digital Tower Technology has also been identified in the FAA’s future business plan. While there are still some unknowns, the FMAA Board feels the technology is worth exploring as a replacement option for our tower.

While we don’t know if this is the technology we’ll adopt, it’s worth serious consideration. I have been given the direction by the Board to explore our options. Over the next several months, I will be working closely with the Board, FAA, our congressional delegation, and our consultant team to determine if this is the right solution for our airport, users, and community. Stay tuned.

Construction Update

Construction on our access roads and parking lot reconfiguration project continues. Due to some weather and a few unforeseen circumstances, we are behind schedule by about a week. Our goal for completion remains for the 8th of June, 2018. The next phase will result in the most significant change to the exit. Be on the lookout for a temporary shift of the exit to the south side of the upper lot. This will be quite an adjustment, so please be on the lookout for signage. Projects like this are complex and have many moving parts. We realize it can be confusing as things change, but we are doing the best we can to reduce the impacts. The good news is, we are only a month away from project completion and the temporary pain will be worth the final product! Please visit our website for the most up to date information on the project.

Thank you for your patience.

Lastly, Congratulations to the Class of 2018!

Sincerely,

SUN Airport Manager