NAV Canada retools industry’s air traffic control systems

Trudeau International Airport in Montreal is the latest Canadian facility to move away from paper-based air traffic control towers to an all-electronic system.

NAV Canada, the nation’s privately-owned provider of civil air navigation

services, has spent approximately $1-billion to modernize towers in Canadian airports — $11 million of which was spent in Montreal.

The Extended Computer Display System (EXCDS), runs on the Windows-based Integrated Information Display System (IIDS). Both were designed and tested in-house by NAV Canada. A lot of software development is done at NAV Canada rather than issue an RFP for the work, according to vice-president of engineering Kim Troutman.

EXCDS allows controllers to enter the flight information of incoming aircraft on-screen, such as type and size, altitude and identification codes. The information can be routed electronically between Trudeau’s 32 air traffic controllers via touchscreen technology.

“”It was a system that we developed to ensure that controllers in different facilities, and even controllers in the same facility, are all looking at the same information. That’s certainly a big safety issue for us,”” said Troutman, referring to the removal of potential human error.

“”We’re providing upgraded technology to allow them to be more efficient in their job. Certainly we’ll never get rid of the air traffic controller, but it allows them to be somewhat more efficient and provide the safeguards that we can put in, utilizing automation,”” he said.

Previously, this information was printed out on paper flight progress strips and manually handed off to controllers. The fact that it is now available on-screen also cuts the amount of verbal communication required. “”Voice communication (was) getting congested, and this is certainly a much more efficient way of passing information,”” said Troutman.

Every keystroke is recorded to provide a permanent record of each aircraft’s flight information, he added. In the event of an incident, the information can be called up and played back. Play-backs can also be used for training purposes.

The control centre at Trudeau has been completely refurbished over the course of a year, according to its general manager Larry Lachance.

The IIDS/EXCDS platform “”requires a lot less real estate as compared to the old system where you had flight progress printers and so on,”” he said. “”It allows for better real estate utilization, as well as bringing the controller closer to the glass of the tower (for a better view of the airport).””

Lachance added that the control centre refurbishment has included other enhancements, such as a new voice communications system.

Virtually every airport across Canada will receive the latest software. According to Troutman, about a dozen are already using it — there are a total of 700 workstations in place — and there are three or four new deployments a year. Toronto was the first facility to get the system, back in 1999, and has since upgraded to a more recent version.

Troutman said that paper-based flight strips are still the norm across most of the globe. NAV Canada recently signed an agreement with three London, England-area airports to deploy IIDS/EXCDS.


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