SAAB remote atc

MIAMI – While we’ve all become familiar and comfortable using Zoom during the pandemic, it seems that commercial air traffic has, in its own way, been doing the same.

In a press release, London City Airport (LCY) announced that it has become “the first major international airport” to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower. All flights in this year’s summer schedules will be controlled remotely “following intensive testing and live trials of the revolutionary technology during lockdown”.

This means that air traffic controllers based 115 kilometers away in Swanwick will direct flights at the airport via an ‘enhanced reality’ view provided by a state-of-the-art 50-meter automated control tower.

Photo: London City Airport

The Technology

Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions developed the technology which proved itself safe and reliable during testing at Ornskoldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden.

At London City, sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors capture a 360-degree view of the airfield. Super-fast fiber connections relay those images to a new control room in National Air Traffic Service’s air traffic control center in Swanwick.

Fourteen HD screens display the images along with audio feed and radar information. Controllers use the live footage to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the airport.

The cameras can pan, tilt, zoom and magnify images up to 30 times. Included in a single display is all necessary information, including call signs, altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather readings, and the ability to track moving objects.

SAAB Digital Tower. Photo: SAAB

London City Airport Comments

Juliet Kennedy, operations director at NATS, said that digital tower technology “tears up a blueprint that’s remained largely unchanged for 100 years.”

Alison FitzGerald, chief operating officer at London City Airport, commented, “We are immensely proud to become the first major international airport to adopt this pioneering technology.

Photo: SAAB

A Significant Upgrade

“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.

“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.”

London City’s 30 year-old tower had been due a significant upgrade. It will now be redeveloped as part of the airport’s modernization program.

Featured image: Romote ATC. Photo: SAAB