A couple of days ago, I was given the very rare opportunity to go behind the scenes of Airservices Australia’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) Centre, right here in my home town of Brisbane. As a child. I always looked up at the tower and would imagine what it would feel like to go up there and how good the view would be. This was something I had dreamed of being able to do for a long-time and as an Avgeek, this was extremely exciting.
Air Traffic Control is an incredibly integral part of aviation and it’s a subject that always gets people interested and something a lot of people would like to know more about. In this post, I’ll be giving you all of the ins and outs of the Control Tower and Enroute centre, how Airservices organise the routes for aircraft and information on how Brisbane airport and its staff are preparing for the upcoming opening of their new runway, which is slated to open midyear, more on that later.
Air Traffic Control Tower
If you’ve ever gone past the tower, you’ll know it stands quite tall. Interestingly, the tower is the second tallest in the country alongside Melbourne, rising an impressive 75m. Perth takes the top spot rising to 80m. From 75 meters up, you’re given a great view over the airport and it’s easy to see the new runway and all the way down to the international terminal. To get up into the tower, there is an elevator that will take you up initially, then it’s just two lots of small stairs. One thing you’ll notice about the tower is that there isn’t as many people in there as you’d imagine and it’s incredibly quiet – as you’d expect, my phone had to remain switched off until I had exited. For those wondering, the tower had been in operation since 1985.
Air Traffic Servies Centre
While most people would automatically assume every bit of ATC is done from the tower, what if I said that isn’t correct? As busy as the tower can be, it’s true that they don’t handle all of the moving traffic in and around Brisbane.
While the tower controls all the traffic on the ground and runways (from aircraft receiving airways clearance through to taxi and take off), the reality is most controllers work in a room downstairs, commonly referred to ‘The Ops Room”. Here, is where groups of controllers are continually monitoring flights and maintaining communication to ensure that separation is being maintained. The Ops Room also contains the Terminal Control Units (TCUs) of Cairns and Brisbane/Coolangatta, who are responsible to the airspace immediately surrounding those locations.
The controllers in the Ops Room are responsible for things such as traffic sequencing, facilitating weather deviations and assisting aircraft as required, should they ever experience an emergency.
The ops room is set up in three aisles and every person is assigned a console, each with their own area of responsibility or “sector”. Each aisle has a shift manager who is located in the centre of the aisle whilst Brisbane Approach (taking up about 10 consoles) have their own dedicated supervisor.
Brisbane’s new runway is set to open midyear.
Brisbane’s new runway is something a lot of people have been excited about for a long time and for good reason. This means the expansion of the airport and with the new runway comes plans for the future, which is always exciting. 19L/01R runs parallel and slightly north of the current 19R/01L and will provide the needed space and capacity for aircraft operating day to day services.
As for the new runway, traffic that is departing to the west and the north will primarily use the western runway while traffic that is heading south and east will utilise the eastern runway.
The new runway will also allow for the airport to operate Simultaneous Opposite Direction Runway Operations or (SODROPS) for short. This is quite common in Sydney and it’s quite interesting to watch.
As for the tower, each runway will be assigned their own independent controller and radio frequency, allowing each runway to be run independently.
As the new runway comes closer to its opening date around July this year, ATC staff are busy getting ready for it with the use of an information room dedicated to showcasing the new taxiway structure as well as the SIDs and STARs associated with the new airspace design. High definition computer monitors play simulations to assist them in learning about the various approach and departure paths.
The tower simulator is used to create any type of scenario/event which helps staff keep up to date and on top of everything. They can test their skills with aircraft emergencies, weather and different runway modes. The TV’s are fully sized and give you an incredible picture and insight into what is being seen up in the tower, the view is almost identical.
I was extremely fortunate to be able to bring you guys this post and I’m extremely thankful for the rare opportunity. It was a great chance to learn and better understand what makes an airport operate – there’s soo many different aspects to ATC and this was a great way to see it all.
Are you excited for Brisbane’s new runway?