While there are several airports around the world employing virtual operations to manage ramp activity, there has been little research or testing on the use of virtual operations including remote locations of ramp towers. While the FAA has oversight of airspace and movement areas, ramp control in the non-movement area is the responsibility of the airport operator, an airline, or a third party. Efforts are underway to manage local air traffic operations from virtual facilities, which permit the control facility to be located anywhere with secure electronic communication capability.
ACRP Research Report 167: Guidebook for Developing Ramp Control Facilities has provided key airport considerations when developing ramp control facilities; however, additional research to determine how to implement a virtual ramp control operation is needed.
The objective of this research was to develop a guidebook, to include a roadmap, that provides U.S. airport operators and their stakeholders* at a variety of types* and sizes of airports, the ability to implement virtual ramp control operations. The guidebook includes these considerations:
- Safety of aircraft and ground operations;
- Maintain and improve operational efficiencies;
- Contingencies for potential network or system outages;
- Integration of surface management processes and practices (e.g., Collaborative Decision Making (CDM));
- Weather events (i.e., deicing, snow removal and low visibility operations, etc.);
- Effective coordination techniques with all airport operational stakeholders (i.e., other ramp towers, air traffic control (ATC), airport operations center (AOC) , and Letters of Agreement or Memoranda of Understanding);
- Staffing levels and training competencies (i.e., human factors);
- Management of gate and remain overnight (RON) positions;
- Coordination of airline services (e.g., baggage, cargo, maintenance, and customer service);
- Budgetary implications with a calculation of return on investment (ROI) for overall feasibility; and
- Advantages and disadvantages for the development of virtual ramp control operations.
The roadmap, which is a series of steps, decision points, and actions that need to be taken to implement a virtual facility, should include, but is not limited to, these components:
- Video systems capability;
- Data connectivity;
- Usage for gate management data systems;
- Surface and area aircraft surveillance capabilities;
- Requirements for communication systems (i.e., air-to-ground / ground-to-ground); and
- Consideration of resilience and IROPS for continuity of service.