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Airways mobile towers keep an eye on the skies

Airways mobile towers keep an eye on the skies

Air traffic control towers typically soar out of the flat airport landscape, their stature obvious from every direction. At Warbirds over Wanaka , and many other events around the country, however, safety in the skies is managed from an obscure, but highly technical, converted shipping container.

Taking care of hundreds of aircraft movements over the Wanaka skies presents an airspace management challenge at this small local aerodrome. Airways New Zealand’s solution is the provision of a heavily converted six metre shipping container fitted out with specialist controller systems and plenty of windows.

Airways’ Chief Controllers James Pengelly, says that this team of specially trained air traffic controllers relish the intensity of the Warbirds event, which is particularly demanding because of the high volume of aircraft landing and taking off in a short period of time.

“Controlling at events such as Warbirds is a highlight in the career for many of our air traffic control team,” he says. “The environment they will work in is vastly different from our usual towers, and so we begin the selection and training of the team months before the event.”

“While we don’t do the air traffic control for the actual aerobatics displays we do ensure that all the aircraft arrive and depart Wanaka safely.”

Mr Pengelly explains that Airways uses its mobile towers at a number of events around the country, and as backup if permanent towers are out of action for maintenance or during an emergency situation.

“Recently, the mobile tower travelled on the back of a truck to Matamata in the Waikato for the Walsh Memorial Flying School,” says Mr Pengelly. “The Flying School trains budding young pilots aged 16-19, and it’s extremely popular - this year our mobile tower broke the New Zealand record for the number of air traffic movements controlled over a 24 hour period.”

The mobile tower has the ability to be set up anywhere in the country within 48 hours, and is widely used for everything from public events to military training exercises. “This facility is the perfect example of Kiwi ingenuity, and demonstrates just how good we are at providing services that meet the needs of our diverse aviation industry,” says Mr Pengelly.


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