London City first UK airport to get remote digital air traffic control

London City first UK airport to get remote digital air traffic control

  • 19 May 2017
  • From the section UK

A picture of the remote operations room which will direct aircraft at London City AirportImage copyright

Image caption

The new system is part of a £350m development programme to upgrade London City Airport

London City is to become the first UK airport to replace its air traffic controllers with a remotely operated digital system.

Instead of sitting in a tower overlooking the runway, controllers will be 80 miles away, watching live footage from high-definition cameras.

The new system, due to be completed in 2018, will be tested for a year before becoming fully operational in 2019.

It has already been tested in Australia, Sweden, Norway and Ireland.

The technology has been developed by Saab, the Swedish defence and security company, and will be introduced as part of a £350m development programme to upgrade London City Airport which will also include an extended terminal building, enabling it to serve two million more passengers a year by 2025.

It will provide controllers with a 360-degree view of the airfield via 14 high-definition cameras and two cameras which are able to pan, tilt and zoom.

The cameras will send a live feed via fibre cables to a new operations room built at the Hampshire base of Nats, Britain’s air traffic control provider.

Image copyright

Image caption

The remote digital system is expected to be fully operational in late 2019

Controllers will be able to hear the airport as well as see it.

Unlike the old tower, the new system will allow controllers to zoom in for a better view, put radar data onto the screen to track aircraft.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott says a critical new safety feature means the cameras will be able to pick out rogue drones near the airport, as well as light the runway at night.

Steve Anderson, Nats Air Traffic Control, told the BBC he has been won over by the technology after being “sceptical” initially.

He said: “They give the controller more information in terms of what they can see, what they can hear.”

The airport is planning to decommission its traditional tower in 2019, replacing it with a new 164ft (50m) digital tower – 104ft (32m) taller than the existing one.

London City Airport chief executive Declan Collier said he is “absolutely confident” that the system is safe from the threat of a cyber attack.

“No chief executive is complacent about threats from cyber security,” he said.

“But we are very confident that the systems we’re putting in place here are secure, they’re safe, they’re managed very well.”

The system made its world debut in Sweden at Ornskoldsvik Airport, where flights have been controlled by a remote tower in Sundsvall, 110 miles (177km) away, since 2015.

Nats airports director Mike Stoller said: “Digital towers are going to transform the way air traffic services are provided at airports by providing real safety, operational and efficiency benefits.

“We do see this as being a growing market place across the UK and the world.”

Get news from the BBC in your inbox, each weekday morning