You don’t necessarily know “Frequentis,” unless you work in the police, firefighters, military, or an airport. Founded in 1947, the Vienna listed family business is a “hidden hero” and at the same time a world market leader. It sounds contradictory, but it can be explained by the special position in which Frequentis operates with about 2,000 employees in 44 national companies, having specialized in safety-critical communications.
“We focus on operations centers, and our customers are usually authorities who have to perform security-critical tasks,” Norbert Haslacher, CEO of Frequentis AG, explains in an interview with “Wiener Zeitung.” Repeat customers are by nature risk averse and somewhat secretive, as they work in civil aviation, national defense and public security.
Air traffic remote control
Haslacher describes what Frequentis is doing on the basis of a project with Saarbrücken Airport. During seven years of cooperation with the authorities there, the so-called remote virtual tower was developed. “You no longer control an airport from the tower, but from a desk,” Haslacher explains, adding, “I always say this is the first step to becoming an air traffic controller in my home office.” From now on, the tower in Saarbrücken can be managed from the Leipzig tower, which is about 450 kilometers away.
“We always look for the toughest country to use our latest technology. In this case it was Germany. Because if the Germans accept something, you can sell it all over the world,” says Haslacher. Anyway, Frequentis has now also sold the solution to New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Great Britain and France.
As a result, the US Air Force became aware of the technology from Austria and decided on it two years ago. The solution is currently being adapted because the military has different requirements, for example for camera systems, as Haslacher explains: “A fighter jet flies over the screen at Mach 1, an A380 at 300 km/h. So the whole program has to work faster.” The Frequentis solution is now represented at two air bases in the USA and on two Marine Corps mobile towers. By the end of 2023, the entire US Army should have a remotely adapted digital tower system.
A US affiliate is a prerequisite for doing business with Americans, but Frequentis had one twenty years ago because it had been with the US Air Traffic Control Agency (FAA) for so long.
By the way, Frequentis communications solutions have also been on board US aircraft carriers for ten years. Although it is his greatest wish to go up there for a few days, Chief Haslacher is not allowed to do so. Reason: Access only for NATO members.
Digital operations centers
Frequentis is also active in many process control centers around the world. If emergency calls are used to coordinate operations and all participants need to contact centrally supervised radio groups, this is often done using the Frequentis solution. It continuously displays all relevant information in one place, from maps including construction sites to traffic cameras or detectives’ videos. “London has 35,000 cameras attached to the Metropolitan Police,” explains the head of Frequentis. In Austria, on the other hand, digital radio has not yet been deployed to the authorities. This is not specifically an Austrian problem, but a difficult one across Europe.
Seeing this as such a challenge, Frequentis created its own solution: Mission X. Regular mobile communications infrastructure is upgraded using special software for system-critical applications. “The biggest risk is always that the operator in the operations center makes wrong decisions due to data manipulation.” Haslacher sees Mission X as a groundbreaking achievement for the next few years. However, it takes a lot of patience, because: “This process of transformation, as the saying goes, is forever and three days.” Aviation accounts for two and a half percent of carbon dioxide2– Responsible missions around the world. It doesn’t sound like much, but given the sharp increase in air traffic, especially in Asia, more climate-friendly routes should be found here too. In the European Union, the program responsible for this is called Green Aviation, and Frequentis has contributed two solutions.
Green fly – roll
With “tower plate”, for example, aircraft mobility on the ground has been improved so that $30 million worth of kerosene is saved annually at Frankfurt Airport for the A320s alone. “That was two years ago,” Haslacher estimates. “Today it will be about $60 million.”
“You shouldn’t underestimate how often planes get lost on the run and suddenly come face-to-face. The plane can’t turn, it has to be pushed, preventing others who have to wait with the turbines running until the path is clear.” The tower panel uses existing ground lighting and directs pilots with a green light along the shortest possible route from the runway to the gate and back.
As a second solution, Frequentis has an Access Manager in the claw. “He can see about 250 nautical miles into the future,” says Haslacher. It improves airport access routes in terms of angle and flight speed and helps avoid unnecessary turns. Thus, London Heathrow saves about 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide2 in the year.”
Repeaters are already working out how things will continue in aviation: “In ten years there will be more drones than planes in the air in Europe,” Haslacher is convinced. It must be recorded and integrated into air traffic control. The steadily increasing number of drone flights, which are currently in the works with Austro Control, will also be automatically approved. With ÖBB, the group is currently developing drone monitoring of railway infrastructure, whose images can be evaluated using artificial intelligence (AI).
In any case, Frequentis is focused on growing for the future: “In the safety-critical control center market alone, €13 billion is served annually,” Haslacher says, giving insight into the business. From Mission X to Remote Tower to drone management, there’s a lot to get your hands on.