London City Controllers Will Soon Separate Airplanes from Inside a Virtual ATC Building

The UK’s first digital control tower will bring the Canary Wharf business airport into the 21st century. NATS

London City Airport’s chief executive officer Declan Collier called the creation of the UK’s first digital control tower at the city’s Canary Wharf business airport an opportunity to bring the airport into the 21st century. When the current brick and mortar tower building is decommissioned, responsibility for safe air traffic control services for LCY’s 300 daily operations will be transferred from on-airport controllers to a team operating remotely from the NATS control Center in Shanwick, some 60 miles southwest of London. NATS is the UK's leading provider of air traffic control services.

A number of high-definition screens in front of the controller at each remote workstation will be fed by video from 14 fixed HD cameras to offer controllers a 360-degree view of the airport at all times. Controllers will use the video, combined with an audio feed of ambient airfield noise and local radar feeds, projected on large HD screens to complete the remote digital tower picture.

A digital tower offers controllers the flexibility to zoom in on potential airport problems with an HD camera rather than trying to figure out next steps using only a set of binoculars. The digital screens in front of the remotely-located controllers will allow flights displayed to be tagged with ID and aircraft type information for easy reference like that available to radar controllers today. For NATS, an advantage is being able to house all air traffic controllers in a single remote building, eliminating the need for construction and upkeep on a traditional structure.

The new digital tower willl, however, require erection of an equipment tower standing more than 150 Agl to house the 14 fixed and two adjustable cameras. Despite a recent hack of the UK’s National Health Service computers, NATS officials said data security concerns have been minimized by using two separate data feeds from the airport to Shanwick, each capable of handling the required data stream alone.

The air traffic services' remote tower concept was created by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions and is operating successfully in Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands. A digital tower test is currently under way at Virginia's Leesburg Airport outside Washington DC.

The new LCY remote ATC facility will undergo more than a year of testing before its scheduled 2019 commissioning.

Rob MarkAuthor
Rob Mark is an award-winning journalist, business jet pilot, flight instructor, and blogger.

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