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A London Airport Is Getting an Upgraded Air Traffic Control Tower-80 Miles Away From All the Planes

A London Airport Is Getting an Upgraded Air Traffic Control Tower-80 Miles Away From All the Planes

London’s City Airport is getting its high-tech upgrade in large part due to a lack of space. Instead of a bulky traditional tower that has to house actual humans, the new ATC tower will simply be host to a whole bunch of cameras, with live footage piped to controllers in a building some 18 miles away.

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London’s City Airport is getting its high-tech upgrade in large part due to a lack of space. Instead of a bulky traditional tower that has to house actual humans, the new ATC tower will simply be host to a whole bunch of cameras, with live footage piped to controllers in a building some 18 miles away. There are additional benefits beside the saved space, too. The screens at the remote headquarters can compress a 360-degree view into 270 degrees, making it possible monitor more action in a smaller space

The airport is to decommission its traditional tower in 2019, meaning aircraft will be directed from a digital control room in Hampshire. Air traffic controllers will have a 360-degree, high definition view of the airfield, meaning they can monitor planes in more detail than by using the human eye, the airport said.

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The technology has already been tested in Australia, Sweden, Norway and Ireland.

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Current Situation

The Tower Building Traditionally every airport has a conventional air traffic control tower, but they don’t come cheap. They cost millions to build and not all parts of the airfield are always visible. In comparison, going digital is more cost effective and offers real operational benefits.

A Digital Alternative

  • Controllers use high definition cameras and remote sensing technology to safely and securely manage air traffic from a location away from the airport
  • All operational data is transferred via a secure super-fast network to a custom built digital tower operations
    room at NATS’ Swanwick air traffic control centre
  • Wrap around screens give the controllers an unparalleled view of the entire airport

The Technology

  • High definition cameras provide a full 360 degree view of the airport
  • Laser range finder for measuring distances to pin point accuracy
  • Pan, tilt and zoom cameras to view any part of the airfield in unprecedented detail
  • Displays enhanced with augmented reality style maps and aircraft data for increased controller awareness.

According NATS blogs Question and Answer.

How safe are digital control towers?

Everything is designed – from the technology to the procedures – with safety in mind and the same will apply for digital towers:

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What happens if a camera fails?

In the system we’ll be using at London City Airport from 2019, there are 14 cameras, plus two separate ‘pan tilt zoom’ cameras. If one of the main cameras fails, one of the PTZs can quickly fill the gap until the camera can be swapped out and replaced.

What happens if all the cameras fail?

In the unlikely event that all the cameras fail, or that both of the independent video data feeds drop out, the team will revert to operating under Low Visibility Procedures as they do when in low cloud or fog, using voice communication and radar. This will slow things down, but it’s a normal part of ATC procedures and all very safe.

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What about the screens?

There are 15 screens in the facility at Swanwick, meaning that if one of them fails the redundant one can instantly pick up the slack. The controllers can also rejig the order in which the screens display, meaning they will still see the airfield correctly. Then, at the right time, the defunct screen can be swapped out and replaced.

Can it be hacked?

Obviously we can never go into specifics about cyber security, but it is something we take incredibly seriously and keep under constant review. It is not an issue we ignore. What I can say it that the systems undergo extremely vigorous testing and for London City, we will have three entirely private and independent data feeds from the airport to Swanwick – two capable of carrying voice and video data, and the other just voice. 

 

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Wouldn’t it be safer to be at the airport?

This is one I hear quite a lot and I always answer by turning the question around: could it not be safer and more resilient to have your ATC operation offsite? In any case the principle of controlling aircraft from a remote location isn’t new. Our radar controllers at Swanwick and Prestwick centres are looking after aircraft potentially hundreds of miles away and all without ever setting eyes on them.

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He is an aviation journalist and the founder of Jetline Marvel. Dawal gained a comprehensive understanding of the commercial aviation industry.  He has worked in a range of roles for more than 9 years in the aviation and aerospace industry. He has written more than 1700 articles in the aerospace industry. When he was 19 years old, he received a national award for his general innovations and holds the patent. He completed two postgraduate degrees simultaneously, one in Aerospace and the other in Management. Additionally, he authored nearly six textbooks on aviation and aerospace tailored for students in various educational institutions. jetlinem4(at)gmail.com

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