City Airport pioneers with flights fully directed by remote tower

The digital air traffic control tower at London City Airport.

The digital air traffic control tower at London City Airport. - Credit: LCA

Flights landing and taking off at London City Airport this summer will be guided by air traffic controllers in Hampshire using pioneering new technology.

The travel hub in Royal Docks has become the first major international airport in the world to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower, following intensive testing and live trials during lockdown.

Flights are being guided to land or take off by air traffic controllers based 115km away at the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) centre in Swanwick, near Southampton, using an “enhanced reality” view supplied by the 50m tower.

London City Airport chief operating officer Alison FitzGerald

London City Airport chief operating officer Alison FitzGerald with the 50m remote digital control tower in the background. - Credit: London City Airport

LCA chief operating officer Alison FitzGerald said: “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. 

“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.


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“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.”

Sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors mounted on the mast of the tower capture a 360-degree view of the airfield.

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This is relayed through super-fast fibre connections to a new control room at the NATS centre, where a dedicated team use the live footage, an audio feed and radar information to instruct aircraft movements.

The live feed - transmitted through independent, secure fibre networks - is displayed on 14 high-definition screens to provide a panoramic moving image, which can be overlaid with digital data to provide the “enhanced reality” view.

Call signs, altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather readings and tracking of moving objects can all be included in this single display.

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

LCA says the technology significantly improves controllers’ situational awareness, enabling them to make quick and informed decisions to improve safety and operational efficiency.

The technology was pioneered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, which has successfully tested the system at Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden.

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