London City rolls out remote digital ATC tower

After months of testing, the system has been introduced into service for the first time 

London City Airport has become the first major international facility in the world to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower. 

The rollout comes after intensive testing and live trials of the technology during lockdown. All flights on the summer schedule are now set to be guided through all processes of flight by controllers based 70 miles away at NATS’ Swanwick facility. 

All photos London City Airport

The state-of-the-art 50m digital control tower was finished in January and comes after the completion of new aircraft stands and a full-length parallel taxiway, which both became operational in December last year. 

Alison FitzGerald, chief operating officer at London City Airport, said: “We are immensely proud to become the first major international airport to adopt this pioneering technology.  

“This investment in smart infrastructure will help us meet future growth in passenger demand, improve air traffic management and give us enhanced capability as aviation bounces back from the pandemic… Since going operational at the end of January, the technology has worked really well and is ready for the expected increase in demand for flights as Brits book their well-deserved summer getaways.” 

Digital tower

Juliet Kennedy, operations director at NATS, added: “This is the UK’s first major digital control tower and represents a significant technological and operational achievement, especially against the backdrop of COVID-19.  

“Digital tower technology tears up a blueprint that’s remained largely unchanged for 100 years, allowing us to safely manage aircraft from almost anywhere, while providing our controllers with valuable new tools that would be impossible in a traditional control tower.” 

On the top of the 50m mast, 16 high-definition cameras and sensors have been mounted which capture a 360-degree view of the gateway. The feeds are then relayed through dedicated fibre optic connections to a new control room at NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick.  


A team of controllers then use the live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the site. 

Inside the controller room, 14 HD screens create a panoramic view of the airfield which is overlaid with digital information to create an “enhanced view”. Data such as call signs, speed, altitude and weather can be integrated, providing increased situational awareness for the controllers. 

The 30-year-old existing air traffic control tower, which was due a significant upgrade, will now be redeveloped as part of the airport’s modernisation programme.