London City becomes first remote air control airport

London City Airport has become the first airport in the world to implement remote air traffic control, controlling flights via a remote digital air traffic control tower.

The remote digital air traffic control tower was implemented via “intense testing and live trials of the revolutionary technology during lockdown”, according to London City Airport, with all summer flights guided to land or take off remotely from the tower, in the London Docklands business district, 115 kilometres away.

 Air traffic controllers located  at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, UK, will guide the aircraft in and out  with access to a so-called “enhanced reality” view supplied by the 50m digital control tower in London.

The system relies on 16 HD cameras and sensors mounted on the mast, capturing a 360 degrees view of the City Airport airfield. The real-time information is then routed through fibre connections to the control room at NATS’ air traffic control centre, using live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to instruct aircraft on movement in and out of the airfield.

The technology was pioneered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, after trialling the technology in other locations including Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden.

Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director at NATS, said: “This is the UK’s first major digital control tower and represents a significant technological and operational achievement, especially against the backdrop of COVID-19. Digital tower technology tears up a blueprint that’s remained largely unchanged for 100 years, allowing us to safely manage aircraft from almost anywhere, while providing our controllers with valuable new tools that would be impossible in a traditional control tower.”

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