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London City is the first major airport to control air traffic via a digital tower

Saqib Shah
·Contributing Writer
·1-min read

Tech is firmly ingrained in air travel. From biometric boarding gates to parallel reality displays that beam custom messages, the process of catching a flight has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. Now, a major technological breakthrough has been announced in the operation and management of air travel. London City Airport has hailed itself as the world's first major international airport to be able to fully control air traffic using a digital tower.

The new system allows personnel based 90 miles away in a village in Hampshire — a county in the South East of England — to guide flights to take off and landing using a new, state-of-the-art digital mast. The 50 meter tower is equipped with 16 high-definition cameras that provide ground controllers with a 360-degree view of the airfield. Included in the camera array are two pan-tilt zoom cameras that replicate the binocular functions of a conventional control tower. 

The images are live-streamed via fiber networks to staff at the UK's main air navigation service provider, known as NATS, in Swanwick in Hampshire. Air traffic controllers view the live video feed on a panoramic screen overlaid with data such as call signs, altitude, weather readings and the speed of aircraft approaching and leaving the airport. 

According to London City Airport, all flights on its summer schedule will be remotely navigated using the new digital control tower. Management claim the smart infrastructure can help it to meet expected growth in passenger demand, following a standstill during the pandemic, as international travel resumes in May. The launch follows previous trials of the system at Sweden's Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports.