London City Airport's flights to be controlled from 70 miles away


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.

Instead of sitting in a tower overlooking the runway, controllers will be 80 miles away, watching live footage from high-definition cameras.

Developed by the defence and aerospace arm of Sweden's Saab, the digital control room has already been rolled out at two small airports in Sweden and has been trialled in the US, Australia and Ireland.

It comes as the airport starts construction on its £350m City Airport development programme, aimed to bring in two million more passengers per year by 2025.

Staff will monitor planes with the help of high-tech 360-degree cameras and sensors fitted to a newly constructed tower, with data and a panoramic views all feeding through to the national air traffic control centre in the southern town of Swanwick.

These will send a live audio and visual feed back to a new operations room in Hampshire run by Nats, the UK's air-traffic control organisation, which handles around 2.3 million flights into, and out of, the United Kingdom every year.

The London City Airport is also planning to decommission its traditional tower in 2019, replacing it with a new 164 ft digital tower.

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The airport chief executive Declan Collier added he was confident the system would be immune from the threat of cyber attacks. It will be completed in 2018, followed by more than a year of testing the remote concept. The new 50-metre control tower now being built at the airport will host HD screens, instead of air traffic controllers.

This will be a revolution in Air Traffic Control.

Controllers will use the footage alongside an audio feed of ambient noise from the airfield and radar readings from the skies above London to instruct aircraft and oversee movements.

"No chief executive is complacent about threats from cyber security, but we are very confident that the systems we're putting in place here are secure, they're safe, they're managed very well", he said.

Imagine a busy air traffic control tower in the heart of a big city. with no-one inside.

The airport, which is undergoing a 350 million pound 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.