London City gets remote tower

air traffic control room

The controllers see the airport through high definition panoramic screens fed by a secure high speed connection - Credit: London City airport / NATS

London City Airport has become the first major international airport in the world to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower. The introduction of the remote tower follows intensive testing and live trials during lockdown.

All flights taking off or landing at London City Airport will be controlled by air traffic controllers based 70nm away at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, using an ‘enhanced reality’ view with images and information supplied by a state-of-the-art digital control tower.

This new technology marks a step-change in global air traffic management and will help the airport meet an expected surge in demand for flying during the summer season as the pandemic restrictions are progressively eased.

Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director at NATS, added, “this is the UK’s first major digital control tower and represents a significant technological and operational achievement”.

Sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors mounted on a mast provide a 360° view of the airfield. This is relayed through super-fast fibre connections to a new control room in NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, where a team of controllers use the live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to direct aircraft movements in and out of the airport.

The live feed, transmitted through independent secure fibre networks, is displayed on fourteen high-definition screens in the Swanwick control room and provides a panoramic moving image. This can be overlaid with digital data to provide an ‘enhanced reality’ view.

Call signs, the altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather and the ability to track moving objects can all be included in this single visual display. Pan-tilt-zoom cameras can also magnify images up to thirty times for close inspection. The digital technology is expected to significantly improve controllers’ situational awareness.

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