London City first major airport to be operated remotely

London City Airport has become the first major international airport in the world to be wholly controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower.

The airport carried out intensive testing and live trials of the technology during lockdown.

Flights in the summer schedule will all be guided by air traffic controllers 115km away at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire.

The controllers will use an “enhanced reality” view from a 50m digital control tower.

16 high-definition cameras and sensors mounted on the mast capture a 360-degree view of the City Airport airfield.

This is relayed through super-fast fibre connections to a new control room in NATS’ air traffic control centre. A team of controllers use the live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the airport.

The live feed, transmitted through independent secure fibre networks, is displayed on 14 HD screens in the Swanwick control room to provide a panoramic moving image. This can be overlaid with digital data for an enhanced view.

Information such as 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 this single visual display.

Pan-tilt-zoom cameras can magnify images up to 30 times for close inspection.

“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,” said Alison FitzGerald, chief operating officer, London City Airport. “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."

FitzGerald added: “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.”

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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