Air traffic controllers to sit in virtual tower 80 miles from airport

London is to become the first United Kingdom city to replace its air traffic controllers with a remotely operated digital system, the media reported.

Mike Stoller, director, airports, at NATS, said: "Digital towers are going to transform the way air traffic services are provided at airports by providing real safety, operational and efficiency benefits, and we are delighted that London City Airport has chosen to work with us to deliver what will be the first of its kind in the United Kingdom". But from 2019, controllers will be based over 110 km away where the airport says an array of digital tools will improve their awareness of situations and efficiency, allowing for quick decision-making.

Plans for the new 50-metre digital tower have already been approved by Newham Council with construction due to start later this year.

Pictures from the airfield and data will be sent through independent and secure fibre networks to the operations room in Swanwick, the airport said. At 900 miles, the distance between the two airports is over 10 times bigger than that separating London City and Swanwick.

London City Airport chief executive Declan Collier said he is "absolutely confident" that the system is safe from the threat of a cyber attack.

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.

London City's remote tower will be constructed at an operations room at the UK's main area control centre at Swanwick, some 110km south-west of the London airport.

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

The new tower will be in the airport's long-stay vehicle park, in line with the mid-way point of the runway, next to King George V Dock.

After more than a year of testing, it will become fully operational in autumn 2019.

Following a record-breaking 4.5 million passengers in 2016, London City Airport will become the first airport in the United Kingdom to introduce a digital tower.

The technology has been developed by Saab, a Swedish defence and security company, and will be introduced as part of a 350 million pounds development programme to upgrade London City Airport which will also include an extended terminal building, enabling it to serve two million more passengers a year by 2025.

  • Zachary Reyes