ORNSKOLDSVIK (SWEDEN ) On a clear day, Per Granquist cannot see forever. But from his perch inside the airport control tower here, he does have an unobstructed view of the future.
The big picture is provided from a 33-foot mast where a gray turret holds an array of digital video cameras, communications antennas, sensors and microphones — a setup that resembles a cross between a space-age dovecote and a prison guard tower. The system is meant to collect and integrate information of the sort that Mr. Granquist, 40, has been providing with his own eyes and ears as an air traffic controller for the last 17 years at this small airport in northern Sweden.
The information from this array, though, is being sent elsewhere — beamed by fiber-optic cable to a windowless room of another airport, 100 miles south, in the slightly larger town of Sundsvall.
The system is still in test mode, but the rest of the global commercial aviation industry is watching closely. Early next year, Mr. Granquist and a handful of his colleagues expect to move to Sundsvall. And from there, they will begin “virtually” guiding the half-dozen or so daily flights in and out of Ornskoldsvik.
Ornskoldsvik is about to become the world’s first remotely controlled airport.
In Sundsvall, instead of surveying the airport through plate-glass windows, he will sit before a semicircular wall of more than a dozen 55-inch liquid-crystal displays.
“But after two weeks,” Mr. Granquist added, “it really feels no different from sitting here.”
Carved from an Arctic pine forest along Sweden’s fjord-studded eastern coast, Ornskoldsvik might seem an unlikely setting for a potential aviation revolution. But over the last several years, officials from dozens of countries have made their way down the airport’s rutted gravel road and past the yellow moose-crossing signs to get a firsthand look at technology that many expect will eventually transform the way air traffic is managed worldwide.