Last month I passed through Abu Dhabi airport a few times and from my passenger’s window became aware of an amazing air traffic control tower, interesting because the tower looked top heavy as if it was defying gravity. I found out later that the overall design was inspired by the maritime heritage of the Emirati by evoking the look of a traditional dhow and its sail, a cultural icon of Abu Dhabi and the UAE by the way.
The ATC was built in 2010; the Abu Dhabi Airport Company commissioned the French Aeroport de Paris, Ingenierie to undertake the design for the visual control tower which has a modern architectural finish of polycarbonate, ETFE foil cushions and aluminum cladding for sun screening and stands 110 metre high. It definitely looked a lot taller from where I was sitting!
So, you may be wondering what this ATCs have to do with Art. Well it’s because the concept of the air traffic control tower featured in my “gap in time” series which was all about air space and how those working in that environment manage their time and their relative time and space perceptions within their constraints. Since then, I’ve moved on towards thinking about air navigation systems in more detail – it’s a kind of conceptual reality space – virtual – that has to be seriously controlled, managed and overseen, otherwise the consequences of mismanagement are disastrous.
Here’s some factual background.
Air traffic control (ATC) is a service provided by ground based air traffic controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace, and the primary purpose of ATC worldwide is to prevent collisions as well as organize the flow of air traffic.
At the airport, the primary method of controlling the environment is visual observation and that’s why the control tower is designed to have a bird’s eye view of the ground. Controllers usually have a radar system called secondary surveillance radar for airborne traffic approaching and departing. We’ve seen these in the movies and these displays include a map of the area, the position of various aircraft, and data tags that include aircraft identification, speed, altitude, and other information described in local procedures.
However, it’s the idea of the airspace that I find interesting because airspace is the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a nation country above its territory, including its territorial waters or, more generally, any specific 3D portion of the atmosphere. It is not the same as aerospace, which is the general term for Earth's atmosphere and the outer space in its vicinity. Airspace may be further subdivided into a variety of areas and zones, including those where there are either restrictions on flying activities or complete prohibition of flying activities.
Futhermore, itt’s interesting to discover that the world's navigable airspace is divided into three-dimensional segments, each of which is assigned to a specific class. Most nations adhere to the classification specified by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
By international law, the notion of a country's sovereign airspace corresponds with the maritime definition of territorial waters as being 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) out from a nation's coastline. Airspace not within any country's territorial limit is considered international, analogous to the "high seas" in maritime law. However, a country may, by international agreement, assume responsibility for controlling parts of international airspace, such as those over the oceans. For instance, the United States provides air traffic control services over a large part of the Pacific Ocean, even though the airspace is international.
There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace, with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (19 miles), the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons to about 160 km (99 miles) the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits. The boundary between public airspace and private air rights is defined by national or local law.
Controlled airspace is a generic term that covers the different classifications of airspace and defined dimensions within which air traffic control (ATC) service is provided in accordance with the airspace classification. Controlled airspace consists of: Class A, Class B, Class C, Class, Class E.
Special use airspace or special area of operation (SAO) is the designation for airspace in which certain activities must be confined, or where limitations may be imposed on aircraft operations that are not part of those activities. Special use airspace usually consists of: Prohibited areas, Restricted areas, Warning areas, Military operation areas, Alert areas and Controlled firing areas (CFAs).
So as you can see there’s a lot to explore artistically and conceptually when it comes to airspace.