London City Airport is to become the first in the UK to scrap its air-traffic control tower and replace it with an internet-connected digital system that can be remotely operated.
The system will enable the airport to re-locate air-traffic controllers 80 miles off-site, enabling an extension to terminal buildings increasing its annual capacity by two million passengers a year by 2025.
Controllers will be connected to the airfield by 14 high-definition cameras, with two that are able to pan, tilt and zoom in. These will send a live audio and visual feed back to a new operations room in Hampshire run by Nats, the UK's air-traffic control organisation, which handles around 2.3 million flights into, and out of, the UK every year.
The new system has been developed by Swedish defence company Saab and will be installed over the next year and subject to testing before going live in 2019. The digital air-traffic control system is part of a £350m upgrade to the airport, located in the Royal Docks close to Canary Wharf in London.
London City Airport CEO Declan Collier said that he was "absolutely confident" that the digital system would not be vulnerable to a cyber attack of any kind - if the links were to go down, the air-traffic controllers would not even have visual access to the field, as they do now, from an air-traffic control tower.
However, the new system would also mean that air-traffic controllers will be able to see the whole airfield more clearly, he added.
The technology has been tested in Australia, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.
Nats airports director Mike Stoller told the Telegraph: "Digital towers are going to transform the way air traffic services are provided at airports by providing real safety, operational and efficiency benefits. We do see this as being a growing market place across the UK and the world."
London City Airport opened in the late-1980s as part of the redevelopment of Canary Wharf. It has a single 1,500-metre long runway and served more than 4.3 million passengers in 2015. The 13th busiest airport in the UK, there have been calls to close it down on environmental grounds, with campaigners arguing that it is too close to the centre of the capital.
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