Following intensive testing during lockdown, London City becomes the first major airport controlled by remote digital tower


London City Airport has become the first major international airport in the world to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower, following intensive testing and live trials of the revolutionary technology during lockdown.

All flights on the summer schedule are being guided to land or take off from the heart of the London Docklands business district by air traffic controllers 115km away at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire using an ‘enhanced reality’ view supplied by a state-of-the-art 50m digital control tower.

The technology marks a step-change in global air traffic management and will help the airport meet an expected surge in demand for flying during the summer season as COVID restrictions are eased from Monday 17 May.

The multi-million-pound investment in the proven remote digital technology marks a major milestone in City Airport’s investment in its future, following the completion of new aircraft stands and a full-length parallel taxiway which became operational in December 2020.

Sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors mounted on the mast capture a 360-degree view of the City Airport airfield. This is relayed through a super-fast fibre connection to a new control room in NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick. A dedicated team of controllers use the live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the airport.

The live feed, transmit ted through independent secure fibre networks, is displayed on 14 HD screens in the Swanwick control room to provide a panoramic moving image. This can be over-laid with digital data to provide an enhanced reality view. Information such as call signs, altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather readings and the ability to track moving objects can all be included in this single visual display. Pan-tilt-zoom cameras can magnify images up to 30 times for close inspection.

City Airport’s digital control tower was completed in 2019 and has been through an extensive period of testing before becoming fully operational. The 30-year-old analogue tower, which was due a significant upgrade, will be redeveloped as part of City Airport’s modernisation programme.