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NATS trials Artificial Intelligence to cut delays at Heathrow

24 Jan 2019 by Mark Caswell
Digital tower lab at Heathrow airport

Air navigation service provider NATS is trialing Artificial Intelligence technology at Heathrow airport, in a bid to cut delays caused by low cloud and reduced visibility.

NATS said that views from Heathrow’s 87-metre tall control tower can be disrupted by low cloud, even when runways below are clear.

On these occasions controllers have to rely on radar to know if arriving aircraft have left the runway, leaving extra time between each landing to ensure safety.

The group said that the result of this is a 20 per cent loss of landing capacity, which in turn creates delays.

The trial aims to reclaim all of the lost capacity, by deploying 20 ultra high-definition 4K cameras on the airfield, along with machine learning technology provided by the Aimee AI platform, which can interpret the images, track aircraft and inform the controller when an aircraft has successfully cleared the runway.

AI technology at Heathrow airport

The project has started with non-operational trials which will study the behaviour of 50,000 arriving aircraft, the results of which will be presented to the Civil Aviation Authority.

NATS says the trials will help it “to understand the feasibility of introducing the technology into service as early as this year”.

Commenting on the news Andy Taylor, NATS Chief Solution Officer, said:

“Safety is always our top priority and Artificial Intelligence is about supporting air traffic controllers. While they remain the decision makers at the heart of the operation, we can use it to provide new tools that help them make the best possible decisions and improve efficiency and safety.

“Right now we’re focusing on when the control tower is in low cloud, where I’m confident we can make a very positive difference, but I am convinced that this technology can totally revolutionise how air traffic is managed at airports around the world.”

The trial is part of a £2.5 million investment in a “digital tower laboratory” at Heathrow, enabling NATS to work with the airport to understand how technology could support the air traffic operation now and in the future.

In 2017 London City airport announced plans to replace its current 30-year old control tower with a new digital version in 2019.

The tower will feature 14 HD cameras and two pan-tilt-zoom cameras, providing a 360-degree view of the airfield “in a level of detail greater than the human eye and with new viewing tools that will modernise and improve air traffic management”.

nats.aero, heathrow.com

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