London City has become what it says is “the first major international airport in the world” to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower.
Business Traveller first reported on the plans back in 2017, and LCY said that all flights in this year’s summer schedules will be controlled remotely “following intensive testing and live trials of the revolutionary technology during lockdown”.
It means that the airport’s flights are now being guided to land or take off by air traffic controllers based 115km away at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, using an ‘enhanced reality’ view supplied by a state-of-the-art 50-metre digital control tower.
The technology used to enable the digital control tower was pioneered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, and it had already been successfully tested at Ornskoldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden.
In the case of London City, sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors capture a 360-degree view of the airfield, which is then relayed through super-fast fibre connections to a new control room in NATS’ air traffic control centre.
Controllers use the live footage – displayed on 14 HD screens – as well as an audio feed from the airfield and radar information, to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the airport.
Pan-tilt-zoom cameras are able to magnify images up to 30 times, and information including call signs, altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather readings and the ability to track moving objects can all be included in a single visual display.
Juliet Kennedy, operations director at NATS, said that digital tower technology “tears up a blueprint that’s remained largely unchanged for 100 years”, while Alison FitzGerald, chief operating officer at London City Airport, commented:
“We are immensely proud to become the first major international airport to adopt this pioneering technology.
“This investment in smart infrastructure will help us meet future growth in passenger demand, improve air traffic management and give us enhanced capability as aviation bounces back from the pandemic.
“It is also a demonstration of the commitment to innovation in the UK aviation sector and to being at the forefront of defining the future of flight.
“Since going operational at the end of January, the technology has worked really well and is ready for the expected increase in demand for flights as Brits book their well-deserved summer getaways.”
London City’s 30 year-old analogue tower had been due a significant upgrade, and will now redeveloped as part of the airport’s modernisation programme.