Last year Norwegian ATC company ACAMS celebrated its 20th anniversary. The company has an established place in the global ATC sector, a great achievement for a company which was started by just three people with a single idea.
ACAMS is perhaps best known for its I-TWR (Integrated Tower) computer system, which concentrates the monitoring, control and display functions of an airport's ATC tower, either civil or military onto just one or two screens. Essentially, I-TWR simplifies a controller's interface with multiple legacy systems such as NAVAIDS, airfield lighting, and meteorological systems into a single presentation on a screen. This enables the controller to be able to see and control everything as easily as possible.
I-TWR is ACAMS’ flagship product. It was also the first solution to be developed by the company before 2001 for Norway's ANSP Luftfartsverket, now known as Avinor. At the time, the operation of Norway's ATC towers was perceived to be becoming too complex. I-TWR was created to solve this problem as a way to control a tower and the airfield as easily as possible.
After months of development and its first successful installation, ACAMS was launched. “We saw the potential to install the solution in other countries,” says Odd Thodesen, co-founder and director of sales and marketing at ACAMS.
Proof of the concept
However, progress marketing I-TWR internationally was slow at first. Shortly after ACAMS was founded the terrorist attack of 9-11 occurred. This refocused almost all investment from airports towards security systems. It took several years before the company sold its first I-TWR systems in Abu Dhabi. This was quickly followed by systems in Doha, Qatar and Egypt.
“We focused first on the Middle East and North African markets, then broke into Brazil,” says Thodesen. “The Brazilian ATC network, run by DECEA needed to update their towers. We produced a large proof of concept system for them in 2007.”
DECEA was impressed with the demonstration installation and a contract for six airports was quickly on by ACAMS after an international tender. The company has been working in Brazil as part of its ATC tower modernization program ever since. Today, 34 towers across the country use ACAMS systems. “The contract in Brazil changed the whole company significantly,” says Thodesen. “We introduced the integrated concept and provided the technical workspace for the controller.”
While I-TWR was rolling out the company was working hard on another pioneering system, a computerized ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service)/D-ATIS – VOLMET/D-VOLMET information system. ATIS automatically generates a speech message from data and text input and transmits it to aircraft pilots. This input is usually meteorological data from the runway, combined with standard arrival/departure information.
ATIS was very much ahead of its time when it was first deployed in Saudi Arabia in 2004. Thodesen says, “ATIS significantly reduces the controller's workload. The synthesized computer speech was the unique selling point at the time. Today many companies do it.”
ATIS has been updated and improved over the years and is still in use today. In 2020 the system was installed in 42 airports in India. “It was also a great achievement to install ATIS at Changi Airport in Singapore, which is often seen as one of the leading airports in the world,” says Thodesen.
Agile and international
The last twenty years has seen steady growth for ACAMS. The company now employs 38 people across the world.
ACAMS has been international in nature since its early days. After winning a contract in Tunisia in 2003, the company established a team of engineers there to carry out the work. Those people still work for the company today in Tunisia.
The model proved a successful way of working internationally and has been replicated in different regions. Today ACAMS has offices in Norway, Brazil, Singapore and Indonesia. “Our home market is a busy business by itself. We have equipment installed at 53 airports and heliports in Norway. We are also developing in Sweden, where we run airfield lighting systems at seven airports,” says Thodesen.
“We are a multinational company. Video conferencing with apps like Teams and Skype has always been an established way of working for us, from the early days.
“But although we are international, we are a relatively small company. We punch above our weight and can be agile and fast.”
ACAMS clients are mainly ANSPs or companies which run an airport. “We are flexible on how we approach working with clients in different countries. Each place has its own approach to how it does business and we are sensitive to that. In some places we work closely with partners and in some the relationship is more direct,” says Thodesen.
The company also works as a sub-contractor with larger companies such as Indra, Singaporian ST, Spanish Comsa and Kongsberg on projects. This represents around half of ACAM's work. “We often supply the links to the airport's systems and processes that and provide an interface with the ATC systems provided by the larger firms,” Thodesen says.
“In many ways, the I-TWR system is like a remote tower already in the way it pulls different systems together into one data feed. The difference is the distance. In a regular installation the distance from the technical room to the tower cabin is tens of meters, in a remote tower to the operator maybe hundreds of kilometres.
“We have many years of experience in the area of systems integration.”
A recent example of such systems integration work is a contract to implement remote tower technology at 15 airports in Norway. ACAMS is working in partnership with Indra, Kongsberg and Avinor on this project, named Ninox. Six airports have been connected so far and the remaining seven will be completed by 2024.
Another contract was won last year to supply I-TWR to Greenland's ATC authority, covering two airports with the option for a third. This work was sub-contracted through Spanish company Comsa. The company is also currently working at three airports in Brazil.
In addition, the company has also recently been focused on achieving ISO-27001 Certification for quality and IT security and cybersecurity protection, as well as ensuring that its software is in compliance with the EUROCAE ED109 (software integrity assurance considerations for communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management). “The certifications position us well to take on future work,” says Thodesen.
A recent major move in the company's technology portfolio has been to apply its approach to integrating and simplifying data from ATC systems to maintenance data. “Our approach is really about taking the I-TWR concept – which works so well for ATC data – and applying it to maintenance data,” says Thodesen.
“It's the same concept but a different end user.”
The system enables users to set conditions and alarms for faults and to conduct simple operations with the systems. Technical monitoring systems have so far been implemented in Qatar and Brazil. ACAMS is working on a country-wide technical monitoring system in Indonesia that will integrate 200 different systems.
In 2022 compared to 2001 the task of system integration is more complex, but Thodesen is confident I-TWR is the right solution and that ACAMS has the right expertise for the job.
“We are less hardware orientated now. We are working with web- and cloud-based solutions and providing SaaS. We are deploying software into the client's servers more often” says Thodesen.
“The company has always been in the black. We are focused on the best processes and the highest quality levels in our work. We are prepared for more growth and more complex projects.”