Enabling Technology for Air Transportation Control Rooms

According to Statista, commercial airlines carried more than 3.5 billion passengers in 2015 and are projected to carry nearly 3.8 billion passengers in 2016. Over 100,000 commercial flights per day travel from about 9,000 airports. At any given time, there are around 8,000 to 13,000 planes in the air around the world.

That’s a tremendous amount of flight activity to control and coordinate across multiple functions including:

  • ground control
  • tower control
  • clearance delivery
  • terminal control
  • en-route control
  • baggage handling
  • terminal security
  • emergency services
  • airline flight operations

These functions are managed in control rooms and operations centers staffed by multiple people, who often also need to interact and collaborate with people in other control rooms. A control room can be sized for just a few operators or for dozens, depending on the scale and range of functions supported. Control rooms need equipment and connectivity built for mission-critical operation – highly reliable, resilient, and redundant.

In control rooms, the amount of information consolidated, displayed, and evaluated is large and growing. To make operators more efficient and enable better decisions, they need to access and visualize multiple data streams and video sources. Some video sources might be camera feeds, but many others are user interfaces from different computer applications that require control room operator interactivity. When there is a large number of applications to use or monitor, operator consoles can become increasingly crowded as they are filled with additional keyboards and display screens that can potentially reduce operator efficiency.

Multiple enabling technologies can improve collaboration across multiple operators in a control room and improve individual operator efficiency.

Improving Operator Ergonomics and Computing Infrastructure Security
Removing distractions from a control room environment helps operators to better focus on their tasks and make better decisions. Locate critical computing infrastructure away from operators in a secure equipment room to eliminate noise and heat from the operator environment, free up space, and reduce cable clutter. A centralized location for computing infrastructure enables IT technicians to work on equipment and minimize disruption to control room operators. Use KVM extenders to extend keyboard, video, and mouse signals over CATx or fiber cable to overcome the inherent signal distance limitations. For example, USB signals, used for keyboards and mice, are limited to a native transmission distance of 5 meters (16 feet). KVM extenders transcode these signals into another format used for sending over a greater distance and then convert back to the native signals at the other end. Desktop switches consolidate keyboards and mice for multi-monitor desktops so an operator only needs a single keyboard and mouse to use multiple remote computers, essentially creating a multi-PC, multi-screen desktop that operates like a single system.

Sharing and Collaboration
A switched KVM matrix enables control room operators to simultaneously share information from remote computers by multiple operators. This provides all of the benefits of KVM signal extension, plus enables users to reach or switch to any system for which they have access permission. The KVM matrix also allows multiple operators or stand-alone video displays to receive a copy of the video output from the same server. Depending on workflow, a KVM matrix potentially enables fewer staff members to perform the same functions, which can lower operations costs.

Some KVM technologies are IP-based, which enables sources (PC and servers) to be located and accessed from anywhere in the facility over the LAN. Some IP-based KVM systems enable users to connect to either physical or virtualized servers, including access to servers across the Internet (KVM-over-WAN). Users with different functions in widely dispersed control rooms can access the same servers and back-up control rooms can be more easily implemented. As more computing infrastructure moves into the cloud and is virtualized, users will need to interact in real-time with remote applications.

Users might need to share content from their desktop to other users or screens. A KVM matrix switch or collaboration software supports screen mirroring so that a specific operator’s desktop can be shared to a video wall or to individual desktop screens.

Common Operating Picture
While advanced video walls are not typically used in an airfield control tower, they have other uses within the broader air transportation ecosystem. Video walls enable a common visualization for the entire control room team, and can range from a collection of individual monitors to a canvas-style video wall with multiple windows and limitless layout options. Drive windowed type systems by a multi-viewer or an advanced video wall processor.

Multi-viewers display multiple windows through a single video output, for example, a quad-view where four windows are simultaneously displayed. Some multi-viewers can support more than four windows and can also be cascaded for additional windows on a single display. Using a multi-viewer with a projection system or with displays that can be daisy-chained can function as a basic, but effective way to control a multi-window video wall for a control room.

Video wall processors expand on multi-viewers by enabling one or more windows of any size to be displayed across multiple displays in any layout configuration across any configuration of display alignment (e.g. 3x2, 6x3, 10x4). This is the ultimate in flexibility and scalability as video walls can be created to support dozens of screens with hundreds of individual windows. For example, security control rooms can bring in video feeds from hundreds of IP cameras across an airport complex and simultaneously display as many of them as desired.

Multi-Site Sharing
Users can share video content with multiple remote users or locations in a view-only capacity with video encoders. Video encoders compress video signals for transport over a network that has limited bandwidth, usually done in H.264 format and increasingly in the newer H.265 format, which uses only half of the bandwidth compared to H.264. A single encoder can send a multi-cast stream into a network so the content can be received by multiple control rooms or mobile users simultaneously. Today, the majority of video surveillance cameras are IP-based and can be easily shared locally or across a network to another site.

Improving Passenger Experience
Some data that is available to control rooms can also be used to drive video walls in the terminals to give passengers more information and in a better visual format. For example, flight-tracker applications can show the position of incoming and departing flights instead of just a list of arrival and departure times. Runways can similarly be visualized to show departure queues on the video wall. This information can help passengers make better decisions and better understand factors related to flight delays. Combined with touch screens, additional data about each plane becomes an interactive experience that improves passenger engagement.

Enabling technology for control rooms helps increase operator efficiency, create a common operating picture to improve collaboration and decision-making, and allows multiple control rooms to share information or operate as back-up sites. Combined with the experience of dedicated air transportation workers, control rooms help keep planes, passengers, and luggage moving around the world.

To learn more about Black Box’s Control Room solutions, visit our website.


Data sources available upon request. 

Air Traffic Control Control Rooms KVM Remote Computer Access TPS
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