Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Modern Battlespace. This approach to ATC in an emergency situation certainly applies to both military and civilian aviation and it’s important to understand how a solution like the one described below will enhance safety efforts in both the public and private sectors.

The air traffic control (ATC) tower is the conductor of the orchestra for airspace on and around airports. To successfully direct traffic, ATC uses great attention to detail and ultimately keeps our airspaces, both civilian and military, safe. But what happens when something like a natural disaster or an environmental threat requires the ATC team to leave their post? Any aircraft within their 20 nautical miles of airspace is still reliant on them for guidance. To address these situations, the FAA has the need for a product that places all core communication capabilities of an entire ATC tower into a communication capability that can be grabbed in the event of evacuation and is easily transportable in a backpack environment.

To gain a better understanding of the technology required to address the needs of the FAA during an ATC 0 scenario (when the airfield is closed, and the ATC tower has limited capability), and how the military airspace would benefit from it, the Modern Battlespace team spoke with Pete Iveresen, Program Manager at Collins Aerospace.

In our discussion, Iversen discussed three key factors that this communication technology for the FAA would need to include to be successful. Here’s what he shared:

  1. Frequency Interoperability – “Because ATC is required to manage military and civilian aircraft, this radio must be equipped to communicate with both UHF and VHF frequencies,” explained Iversen.
  2. Fool-Proof Operation – “The lynchpin is that at this point, you’ve lost all of your primary and even most of your backup systems. Your last resort is this portable radio. It’s a no-fail mission; the radios must work, and they have to be easy to use,” Iversen stated. Reliable, rugged hardware is a must for the FAA’s mission here.
  3. Clear, Fail-Safe Audio – “In a situation like a natural disaster, there is bound to be some background noise that our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) team has to account for when trying to communicate with remaining aircraft in their space.” Iversen noted that the complexity of delivering ground-fixed capable radio in a portable package format.

“Our military manpack radios, like the PRC-162, are designed for diverse missions. Our tactical radios have the filtering necessary to allow multiple radios to operate close together,” he said. “This makes crystal clear audio of utmost importance in an emergency situation for ATC and explains why the FAA is seeking a reliable solution that portably addresses those communication needs.”

Collins Aerospace already utilizes the trademarked Clarity Noise Reduction algorithm to tackle this challenge for ATC with their existing ground-fixed radio solution. “How it works is it removes all of the non-syllabic speech during communication, resulting in clearer, more intelligible audio. This means that ATC doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to understand the same message. And in a scenario where they could be dealing with severe weather, taxiing aircraft, and other background noise, that clarity is critical.”

We look forward to learning more about the development of this critical technology for the FAA and how the conversation around ATC modernization will progress this technology over time.