London City .. The first airport to control air traffic through a digital tower
A major technical breakthrough in the operation and management of air travel was announced at a time when the technology is becoming firmly entrenched in air travel.
From biometric boarding portals to a parallel reality that displays those radial personalized messages, catch-up has changed dramatically in the past two decades.
The new system allows personnel stationed 144 kilometers away in a village in Hampshire to direct take-off and landing flights using a modern digital mast.
The 50-meter-high tower is equipped with up to 16 high-resolution cameras that provide ground controllers with a 360-degree view of London City Airport.
The Array Camera includes two pan-tilt zoom cameras that provide the telephoto functions of a conventional control tower.
The tower has metal screws on the top to protect the cameras from birds, and each camera has a self-cleaning mechanism to prevent insects and debris from blurring the lens.
The images are broadcast live over fiber networks to employees at the UK’s main air navigation service provider, known as NATS, in Hampshire.
The live sound of the airport is transmitted to the new control center so that controllers can still hear the noise of the aircraft engines while preparing to fly and the reverse pressure for landing.
Air traffic controllers display live video broadcasts via 14 panoramic screens covered with data, such as: call signs, altitude, weather readings, and the speed of approaching and leaving the airport.
The digital tower aims to improve efficiency and allow for a smooth future expansion, because air traffic controllers can handle a greater number of aircraft movements thanks to new technology that provides them with more data than before.
And according to London City Airport, all flights on its summer schedule are remotely navigated using the new digital control tower.
The administration explains that smart infrastructure could help it meet the expected growth in passenger demand, after the stalemate during the pandemic, with international travel resuming in May.
Once aviation recovers after the pandemic, the airport can handle 45 plane movements an hour, up from 40 in 2019.
The launch follows previous tests of the system at Sweden’s Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports.
The plan to construct the tower dates back to 2016, when the city realized that it needed to invest heavily in the old control tower in order to move forward with an expansion plan of 500 million pounds to fit additional, larger aircraft.
It decided instead to build a new one due to the efficiency advantages provided by the new remote control technology developed by Swedish company Saab.
The idea of the new tower has attracted the interest of large airports, as Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, is considering remote control towers in its future plans.
It should be noted that London City is the smallest airport in London, and before the epidemic it served 5 million passengers a year, most of them traveling on business trips to European destinations, such as: Frankfurt and Amsterdam.