London City Airport fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower
All flights on the summer schedule are being guided to land or take off from the heart of the London Docklands business district by air traffic controllers based 115km away at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire, using an ‘enhanced reality’ view supplied by a state-of-the-art 50m digital control tower.
The 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 COVID-19 restrictions are eased from Monday 17th May.
The multi-million-pound investment in the proven remote digital technology marks a major milestone in City Airport’s investment in its future, following the completion of new aircraft stands and a full-length parallel taxiway which became operational in December 2020.
The technology was pioneered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, which has successfully tried and tested the system at Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden.
Sixteen 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 in Swanwick. A dedicated 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 to provide an ‘enhanced reality’ 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.
The digital technology significantly improves controllers’ situational awareness, enabling quick and informed decisions to improve safety and operational efficiency.
City Airport’s digital control tower was completed in 2019 and has been through an extensive period of testing before becoming fully operational. The 30-year-old analogue tower, which was due a significant upgrade, will be redeveloped as part of the airport’s modernisation programme.
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