London airport's new control tower won't have anyone inside

Five new planes you may fly in soon
Five new planes you may fly in soon

Imagine a busy air traffic control tower in the heart of a big city... with no-one inside. That's coming to London soon.

London City Airport is installing a "digital air traffic control tower" that will be operated by controllers sitting in an English village about 70 miles away.

The new tower will use 14 high-definition cameras and various sensors to provide a 360-degree view of the airfield. Live video and data will be sent to the remote controllers via "super-fast secure fiber connections," the airport said.

"London City [Airport] will be the busiest in the world to adopt this technology," said Paul Beauchamp, a spokesperson for NATS, the national air traffic service that employs the air traffic controllers.

The technology is currently only in use at two remote northern airports in Sweden, though many others around the world are expressing interest in the system, Beauchamp said.

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The airport promises that the cameras and screens will provide "a level of detail greater than the human eye."

Air traffic controllers will be surrounded by screens overlayed with information about weather trends and moving objects. They'll be based at a larger NATS center where staff monitor the skies above the U.K.

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London City Airport is the closest airport to central London and serves many business passengers.

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The airport and NATS say they have the tools to keep the new system safe from hackers and other threats.

There will be three private fiber connections between the tower and the control center, one for normal operations and two backup links, Beauchamp said.

The system, created by Sweden's Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, has been in development and testing for the past 10 years.

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London City Airport's air traffic controllers will be based in the English village of Swanwick, about 70 miles away.

Nobody will lose their jobs when the tower opens in 2019 because staff will be trained to operate the new system.

"The controller remains at the heart of the operation ... doing what they currently do, but they'll be doing it with a whole bunch of technology tools to do it even better," said Beauchamp.

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Traditional air traffic control towers, like this one at London's Heathrow airport, could soon become a thing of the past.

About 4.5 million passengers used London's city center airport last year. It is popular with business travelers because it's easier to reach from the city's financial centers than Heathrow or Gatwick airports.

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Air traffic controllers for London City Airport will be surrounded with high-tech screens

-- Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the distance between the airport and the remote control center.

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