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


London City Airport is to become the first airport in the United Kingdom to install a remotely operated air traffic control system.

A live feed of the view will be sent "via independent and secure super-fast fibre networks" to a new NATS control room in Swanwick, from where air traffic controllers will perform their operational role, alongside an audio feed and radar readings. The new 50-metre control tower now being built at the airport will host HD screens, instead of air traffic controllers.

Controllers will be able to use several viewing tools to observe airfield activities, including pan-tilt-zoom cameras that can magnify up to 30 times for close aircraft inspections.

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

Building work will start later this year, and the tower will come into use in 2019. "Having a key worldwide airport such as London City Airport trust in our solution demonstrates that it is scalable, bringing the benefits of digitalisation to airport operators, unconstrained by their size or location".

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.

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

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

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 50-metre high tower will be located in the airport's long-stay vehicle park, in line with the mid-way point of the runway, and will be built in 2018, followed by a year of testing and training before becoming operational in 2019.

The new system will be tested for a year before becoming fully operational in 2019.

The airport, bought last year by a consortium including Canadian pension funds, is due to expand as part of a development programme which will see an extra two million people flying to and from it every year by 2025 and an additional 30,000 annual flights.

"We do see this as being a growing market place across the United Kingdom and the world".

Some 4.5million passengers used London City Airport a year ago.