POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — From an operations center in Bartow, air traffic controllers could soon help pilots land and take off from airports in other states and even countries.

The Bartow-based remote air traffic controller would utilize digital towers with cameras at the corresponding airport, the first system of its kind in the western hemisphere.

“They can land planes in the Caribbean from Bartow Airport through a camera array and they can land planes in Trinidad, Turks and Caicos,” said Nicole Valentine, president of the Washington Consulting Group, which provides services in the airfield operations and air traffic control sector all over the world.

Digital towers are a low-cost solution for areas that are rural and developing, Valentine said.

Rather than build and staff a brick-and-mortar air traffic control tower or risk people’s safety by going without one, airports in these areas could use remote air traffic controllers, possibly working from Bartow.

There are a number of reasons why Bartow Airport Authority was the most attractive for this project.

It sits in the center of Florida, between Tampa and Orlando, in a county with its own booming aviation community.

It also has a unique air traffic control tower.

“Primarily, we have a non-federal control tower at Bartow Airport. They’re very rare. Most air traffic control towers are either manned by FAA personnel or they’re manned by FAA licensed contractors,” said John Helms, executive director of Bartow Airport Authority.

Because it is locally managed, a training center can be developed on the site, Helms said.

While private and public funding still needs to be finalized, the plan would include an air traffic control training and operations center.

The trainees would learn to operate both traditional and remote towers and could work on-site once their 10-month training is completed.

“It would be huge for our community and it would be a major advancement for aviation in the United States,” said Helms.

“I live super close here and it’s something that I don’t want to leave. This is my home. So if I’m able to train here, learn here and stay here, that’s what I want to do,” said Carissa Rosario, an aspiring trainee. “Knowing that something close to home is going to be opening up that will maybe, potentially allow me to live that dream was really really enticing for me.”

The training would cost $50,000 with starting salaries over $100,000.

Industry experts recognize there have been challenges in recruiting air traffic controllers.

“We found there is a high number of retirements in the FAA and the numbers don’t seem to be matching up for replacement,” said Helms.

The goal is to create a local pipeline for air traffic controllers, similar to what Lakeland’s Sun ’n Fun has done with pilots.

“Starting with the certification program to certify air traffic controllers and ultimately moving that into the school system and then ending with employment opportunities locally in the field,” said Helms.

“Their controllers will be extremely diverse and have an opportunity to train on systems that no other controllers at this point in time have that capability to do,” said Valentine.

Washington Consulting Group aims to have the program up and running in 2023.

Applications, initially just for people over 18, will open next month. A website for applications and more information is still in development.