Digital air traffic control towers trialled by UK airports

Several major British airports are considering scrapping traditional air traffic control towers in favour of digital technology, according to Saab.

The Swedish company,  which specialises in defence and security, said the use of cameras and sensors for air traffic control could make towers as we know them ‘obsolete’ by 2025.

The firm has already tested the technology in the US, Sweden, Australia, Norway and Ireland.

Cameras are used to relay information about what is happening on the runway to a remote control room.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is trialling the use of digital towers at Cork and Shannon airports, with air traffic managed at a control centre hundreds of miles away at Dublin airport.

Nats, Britain's air navigation service provider, said it is considering a number of potential digital projects in the UK.

Ornskoldsvik Airport in Sweden was the first in the world to get such a system approved. 

Since 2015, flights have been controlled by a remote tower in Sundsvall, 110 miles away.

Leesburg Airport in Virginia, US, is also testing the technology.

Saab said the installation and operation of digital airport systems come at a fraction of the cost of a traditional tower, without affecting safety.

The system was demonstrated at last week's Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire which was unfortunately evacuated following a heavy downpour. 

A number of major airports across Europe are considering utilising the system, Saab said.

"Digital towers have the potential to be transformational for many British airports and are testament to the way technology is transforming our airports,” said Per Ahl, the company’s vice-president.

"For almost a century the control tower has physically been at the centre of airports as a bricks and mortar installation, but digital technology is ushering in a new age, where air traffic controllers are pooled together to create efficiencies.

"We are in conversation with a number of British airports who are interested in our technology and I am confident that in a decade the traditional tower will become obsolete as digital technology becomes the norm."

Steve Anderson, head of transformation at Nats, said: "Remote towers are an exciting technological development for our industry.

"Delivering airport air traffic services remotely from centralised locations could be transformational for our business and we are actively exploring a number of potential opportunities in the UK."

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