London City first United Kingdom airport to get remote digital air traffic control

It will install a digital control tower in 2019- meaning controllers will be able to direct planes from 80 miles away in Hampshire by watching live footage from high-definition video cameras

London City Airport is set to become the first British airport to install a remotely operated digital air traffic control system, breaking with the century-long tradition of manned control towers.

The digital technology will allow controllers to use tools such as high-definition zoom and enhanced visual displays of all activity on the airport's runway, including the ability to take close-up views of aircraft movements.

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

NATS says the digital tower will be developed by Saab's specialised remote-tower arm, Digital Air Traffic Solutions, and replace a 30-year old tower at London City.

The images of the airfield and data will be sent via independent and secure super-fast fibre networks to a brand new operations room at the NATS control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire. At 900 miles, the distance between the two airports is over 10 times bigger than that separating London City and Swanwick.

The control tower in Swanwick will house three people per shift, the same number of controllers now working in London.

Declan Collier, London City Airport chief executive, told the BBC he was "absolutely confident" the system would be safe from the threat of a cyber attack.

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'No chief executive is complacent about threats from cyber security.

He said: 'A pioneering new digital air traffic control tower system will enhance safety and improve resilience, setting a new standard for the global aviation industry to follow.

The sophisticated tools of a digital set-up significantly improve a controller's situational awareness, enabling quick and informed decisions that thereby offer safety and operational benefits for the airport.

Construction of the 50-metre tall digital tower - 32 metres higher than the existing version - will begin later this year and is due to be completed in 2018. The digital tower will become fully operational in 2019.

The airport, which is undergoing a 350 million pound ($455 million) expansion, is located near the Canary Wharf financial centre in east London and used by over 4.5 million passengers mainly for business travel between Europe's major centres.

It is embarking on a £350million development programme including new aircraft stands and an extended terminal building to enable it to serve two million more passengers per year by 2025.

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