Belgian air navigation service provider skeyes and Walloon airport operator SOWAER join forces to build the first digital tower centre in Belgium

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skeyes and SOWAER have signed a historic agreement that confirms the setting up of the first digital tower centre in Namur. It will guide air traffic at Liege and Charleroi airports while increasing safety thanks to augmented reality.

The control towers at Liege and Charleroi Airports must be thoroughly renovated by SOWAER (Société Wallonne des aéroports). Such a renovation will disable the physical towers for a period of time.

As Liege and Charleroi Airports currently do not have a contingency control tower, skeyes and SOWAER analysed the different scenarios to guarantee the safety of air traffic and the continuity of airport activities when the physical towers are not available. Feasibility studies showed that building a digital tower centre is the best long-term solution.

Framework agreement

Following these studies, skeyes and SOWAER agreed to partner for building a digital tower centre in Namur. The objective is threefold: increasing air safety, strengthening the continuity of airport operations at Walloon airports and improving the efficiency of air navigation services.

Enhancing air safety

Thanks to new augmented reality technologies with state-of-the-art cameras installed at airports, air traffic controllers will be able to remotely manage aircraft movements on the apron and approaching traffic. This new technology provides air traffic controllers with much more information than they can get thanks to the naked eye, especially in bad weather conditions.

Finally, this solution enables to improve cost and operational efficiency through the centralisation of air navigation services for Liege and Charleroi Airports.

Jean-Luc Crucke, Walloon Minister for Airports:

I am delighted with this step forward which will allow Wallonia to be a pioneer in Belgium with the development of this new technology. The arrival of the digital control towers in Namur will allow us to ensure increased security of our two airports and to remedy the lack of contingency towers which could not be solved in the past. Our two airports are at a crossroads and this new infrastructure reinforces the positive outlook and the new dynamics initiated at both sites. “

Land purchase and building construction

SOWAER is committed to constructing a building – the Remote Tower Centre – in the Ecolys business park in Namur. It will be responsible for and owner of the building and will grant a long lease[i] to skeyes free of charge for a period of 20 years (renewable).

It will also vouch for the granting of surface rights on airports in order to set up masts and cameras, on which the digital tower system is based. The estimated budget for this building is around €8,5 million.

Nicolas Thisquen, Chairman of SOWAER Executive committee:

SOWAER is proud to build the first Belgian digital control tower centre in Namur. This building will house a modern tool, available 24 hours a day, halfway between the airports of Charleroi and Liège, and able to easily adapt to their growing development while increasing air safety and continuity of services.”

Setting up of the air traffic control centre

skeyes will install digital towers – the Remote Tower Modules – in the building to provide air navigation services to Liege and Charleroi Airports.

It will be responsible for and owner of the systems and equipment on the airports and the control centre and will finance them.

Johan Decuyper, CEO of skeyes:

’skeyes takes advantage of technological progress in the air traffic management sector to further increase safety and improve the quality of service to its customers. We continue to invest in the technologies of the future. In a context of increased competition between airports at international level, digitisation is essential for the provision of high-quality and competitive air navigation services. That is a key asset for the entire aviation sector and for the Belgian economy.’’

Contingency system

Liege and Charleroi Airports do not have contingency control towers to ensure the continuity of air navigation services in the event that the control towers are unavailable.

Digital towers will help develop contingency solutions.

Technological provider

skeyes has launched a public tender to select an industrial partner for equipping the digital towers. The public contract award is in progress.

Timing 

The commissioning of the digital tower centre is scheduled by the end of 2025, begin 2026.

Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for Mobility:

With these digital control towers, cutting-edge technology is being used to improve air safety. Our air traffic controllers will be able to better guide the planes at night or in case of bad visibility thanks to an augmented reality coupled to their screens. The result is impressive and I congratulate skeyes and SOWAER for this premiere in Belgium.  Especially since this technology will also benefit our environment. With better anticipation and planning of air traffic, skeyes will be able to contribute to making it more fuel-efficient and to reducing the noise pollution produced. Innovation can be an ally of the climate. And this is the direction in which I, as Minister for Mobility, want to steer the entire aviation sector. “

 

[i] Emphyteusis allows the beneficiary to have full enjoyment of real property belonging to another person in return for payment to the latter, at regular intervals, of a sum of money called ground lease fees or rent.

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