London City celebrates being first major airport controlled by a remote tower

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Situated in the heart of the UK capital, London City Airport (LCY) has become the world’s first major international airport to be fully controlled by a remote digital air traffic control tower.  The multi-million pound investment in the revolutionary technology marks a major milestone in the airport’s investment in its future.

Pioneered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, the technology has already been successfully tried and tested at Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden. City Airport’s digital control tower was actually completed in 2019 but has since been through an extensive testing period before becoming fully operational. As a result, all flights on the airport’s summer schedule will now be guided to land or take off by air traffic controllers now based 115km away at NATS’ air traffic control (ATC) centre in Swanwick, Hampshire. Controllers will use an ‘enhanced reality’ view supplied by a sate-of-the-art 50m digital control tower located at LCY.

The unveiling of the revolutionary technology follows the completion of new aircraft stands and a full-length parallel taxiway which became operational in December 2020.

“We are immensely proud to become the first major international airport to adopt this pioneering technology,” said Alison FitzGerald, LCY’s Chief Operating Officer. The investment in smart infrastructure will help the airport meet future growth in passenger demand and improve air traffic management, as well as provide enhanced capability as aviation bounced back following the pandemic. “It is also a demonstration of the commitment to innovation in the UK aviation sector and to being at the forefront of defining the future of flight,” she added.

Meanwhile, Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director at NATs, commented: “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.”

Sixteen high-definition cameras and sensors mounted on the mast capture a 360-degree view of LCY’s airfield. This is relayed through super-fast fibre connections to a new control room in NATS’ air traffic control centre in Swanwick. A dedicated team of controllers use the live footage, an audio feed from the airfield and radar information to instruct aircraft movements in and out of the airport. The live feed is displayed on 14 HD screens in the Swanwick control room providing a panoramic image. This can be overlaid with digital data to provide an ‘enhanced reality’ view.

Information such as call signs, altitude and speed of all aircraft approaching and leaving the airport, weather readings and the ability to track moving objects can all be included in this single visual display. In addition, pan-tilt-zoom cameras can magnify images up to 30 times for close inspection.

“This is an important milestone for Saab in the implementation of remote air traffic solutions at major civil aerospace hubs with dense traffic in a complex airspace. We look forward to seeing the technology take off at London City Airport, giving controllers new tools and safety features which demonstrate the benefits Digital Towers can bring,” said Magnus Lewis-Olsson, Chairman and President of Saab UK.

Research has revealed huge pent-up demand for international travel this summer. British Airways is introducing a new route to San Sebastian, Spain, alongside popular holiday destinations including Ibiza, Mykonos and Santorini to help meet the expected surge in short-haul travel.

Plans outlined to protect threatened UK airfields

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Outlining plans to save threatened UK airfields, the General Aviation Awareness Council (GAAC) has proposed a fourth category of land to the UK Government that would aid in balanced economic development – through the recognition of valuable ‘Infrastructure’.

According to GAAC, the lack of an ‘Infrastructure’ category airfields are instead deemed ‘Protected’ rendering them unable to evolve and become commercially viable, and leaving them vulnerable to housing developers. Published last August the UK Government’s Planning White Paper highlighted a proposal to create three ‘Zones’ to streamline the planning process and speed up provisions for new housing. The three zones included: Growth – areas suitable for substantial developmet; Renewal – areas suitable for development; Protected – restricted development. The GAAC suggested an amendment to include a further planning zone for Infrastructure – to include general aviation airfields.

With small airfields complementing future flight projects such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), including commercial drone deliveries and air taxis, the Council highlights that more environmentally sustainable ‘green’ aircraft powered by electricity, hydrogen (or multi-fuels like used cotton) are either already UK licensed or about to be.

Aerodromes constitute “a huge resource – contributing to connectivity and transport needs, facilitating business aviation, flying training, STEM-related training and jobs, supporting emergency services and charities, offering recreational, leisure and sporting facilities,” said John Gilder, GAAC Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the APPG-GA’s Airfields Working Group. “Most importantly in the current context, they help ensure connectivity in key locations for future infrastructure needs – in the ‘transport, digital, energy and utility’ sectors. ”

After the government’s failure to confirm airfields as a specific use the perception that they were ‘brownfield’ sites made them an easy target for developers, said Gilder. “This created a major issue for the GA sector, even with the National Planning Policy Framework Review Amendments of 2018.”

He added that, “A combination of the demand for housing and the perception that airfields are underused, cheap land ripe for development due to a lack of planning protection has meant a large number of aerodrome sites have already been lost. Many others (50 plus) are under threat.”

Currently it is almost impossible to create a new airfield. “Therefore, the existing resources must be regarded as irreplaceable,” said the GAAC, adding, “There has never been clear planning policy determining how Local Plans should deal with most of the smaller GA aerodromes.”

In addition, a lack of knowledge among Local Authority planners exacerbates the situation. So, along with the new ‘Infrastructure’ category, the GAAC would like to see supporting guidance for planning officers.

The GAAC believes that current protection of GA aerodromes is inadequate and notes: “The CAA’s current guidance  is to lodge a ‘Safeguarding Map’ with the Local Planning Authority and agree for the aerodrome to be consulted on any planning applications which infringe the Map. However, other development which does not infringe the ‘Obstacle Limitations Surfaces’ on a Safeguarding Map  could have a major adverse impact on the safety and, therefore, viability of aerodrome operations. The recent extension of the ‘Agent of Change’ principle to aviaition activities is helpful but needs to go further.”

The GAAC would like to see strategically important aviation infrastructure sites supported by planning policy which “gives general protection and a general principle that additional related development should normally be allowed.”

Importantly, “any proposal to permanently remove the asset should require the proposer to adequately demonstrate the justification or otherwise for this. An Independent Planning Inspector would then be instructed to asses and adjudicate – based on viability, the degree of criticality within the overall network, and contribution to the local economy and local community.”

The GAAC also says there is “currently little consistency in the way GA aerodromes are treated in planning policy and administration. Inadequate understanding of the requirements and functions of GA aerodromes and their value to the community frequently leads to issues, and there are recurring anomalies around the application of planning policy and the necessity for operational safeguarding at airfields.” In addition, all airfields should have clear and consistent planning Permitted Development Rights and LPAs should be widely circulate that this is the case.

Pictured: Fairoaks Airfield, Surrey.

A sustainable future for Scotland’s airports

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Underlining how the aviation industry can work with a new Scottish Government to rebuild Scotland’s aviation connectivity following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has released its 2021 Scottish election manifesto.

Commenting on how the pandemic has had a devastating effect on aviation, Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive, said, “A new Scottish Government will have to get an aviation recovery started from its first day in office to return Scotland’s airports to the success story they were previously.

“Aviation brings social and economic benefits to everyone, not just to those employed in aviation and tourism. Many businesses rely on aviation to reach customers and export products while aviation connectivity brings people together, particularly across Highland and Island communities.”

AOA’s manifesto sets out three priorities: To deliver a meaningful restart and recovery for Scotland’s aviation connectivity; Investing in sustainable aviation to make Scotland a world-leader in green aviation; Keep the UK Government accountable on borders fit for an outward-looking Scotland.

According to AOA passengers travelling through Scotland’s airports last year were down 75% to just over 7 million and financial support to Scotland’s airports has been limited. Yet Scotland relies on a thriving aviation sector, for the visitor economy, exporting businesses and connecting Highland and Island communities to vital services. AOA is calling for financial support for airports until aviation can meaningfully restart, as well as a clear roadmap to recovery for the aviation sector. Any aviation recovery package should include a route development fund, which could include reimbursing landing charges for key routes, more generous use of Public Service Obligations and/ or route start-up funding. It should also include additional marketing funds to attract visitors to Scotland, investment in surface access and working alongside the UK Government on a 12-month holiday on Air Passenger Duty (APD).

With an emphasis on building back better high on aviation’s agenda, AOA would also like to see aviation returning for all communities in Scotland and not just those that are considered an economic hotspot. It also needs to have an environmental impact that is lower than it was in 2019. The association is calling for a clear vision on how a new Scottish Government will attract investment in sustainable aviation fuels production and the development of alternative fuel technologies to bring green aviation jobs to Scotland. It also wants to see a Green Airports Fund established to support airports through grants and funding for sustainable power and heat generation, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, low-emissions airside vehicle uptake and sustainable aviation fuel infrastructure. It is also calling for support to the UK-wide airspace modernisation programme to upgrade Scotlands’ airspace and reduce emissions and noise impacts as a result.

“Restart is an opportunity to build back better and ensure aviation’s recovery sees the industry reduce its environmental impact. Not only is this good for the planet but also creates green aviation jobs and could make Scotland a leader in sustainable aviation technology,” added Dee.

“We look forward to working with Ministers and officials to deliver on this, enabling aviation to play its full part in helping to recover Scotland’s prosperity post-pandemic and its 2045 goal of net-zero carbon emissions.”

And while airports have done what they can to improve facilities at the border and now the UK Home Office and Border Force need to take the next steps. The new Scottish Government should hold the UK Government to account on: Additional reosurces for Border Force to ensure it is better equipped to deal with passenger volumes; Implementing the recently published 2025 UK Border Strategy; and adapt current performance measurement to better reflect actual passenger experience at the border.

Dubai Health Authority partners with Emirates on digital verification of COVID-19 medical records

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Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have begun to implement full digital verification of COVID-19 medical records connected to testing and vaccination for travellers based in the UAE.

Those passengers travelling with Emirates and that have taken a PCR test in Dubai can choose to check-in without presenting their physical COVID-19 PCR test report. In addition, customers who have received their COVID-19 vaccination at a DHA health centre in Dubai can, together with their COVID-19 PCR test results, have their documents synchronised during flight check-in. The new streamlined verification procedures will enable secure and faster processing times for passengers departing from Dubai International Airport.

The integration comes less than two months after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority, and is a first-of-its-kind agreement between an airline and a government health authority. The integration also makes Dubai one of the first cities in the world to implement full digital verification of traveller medical records related to COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

“The UAE Government has been very supportive and is one of the leading countries in the use of technology and digital applications. This initiative is in line with the government’s vision and we are delighted to take this step within the aviation sector to cooperate with DHA in linking our systems together to enhance the customer experience by processing the relevant documents in a more efficient, secure and effective manner. Our partnership with the Dubai Health Authority in managing passenger travel is unique and is a first step towards other initiatives that will be launched in the near future,” said Adel Al Redha, COO for Emirates Airlines.

Emirates is one of the airlines that has introduced best business practices and applications to re-energize and stimulate international travel. In the coming months, the next phase of digital verification will see secure integration of health records within the IATA Travel Pass as another option to help facilitate travel for passengers.

Winnipeg Airport welcomes the return of Swoop

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Canada’s Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport has marked the return of Swoop. The LCC has reintroduced its ultra-low fares to connect Winnipeg with Hamilton’s John C. Munro International Airport in Ontario and Abbotsford International Airport in British Columbia, with operations to Kelowna International Airport also in British Columbia set to begin in June.

Shane Workman, Head of Flight Operations at Swoop said the airline was thrilled to reaffirm its commitment to Manitoba through its return to Winnipeg. “Our affordable fares are now available to those travelling for essential reasons and Swoop will be here to support the economic recovery of the region and connect Manitobans to their family and friends when the time comes.”

The reintroduction of services to Winnipeg marks another milestone for Swoop as the airline continues its recovery efforts in conjunction with its airport partners to bring affordable and accessible air travel to all Canadians. The airline remains optimistic that as Canada continues its vaccine rollout (albeit slowly), a safe restart of domestic air travel is on the horizon.

“We are pleased to welcome Swoop back to Winnipeg as we continue to plan for the safe return of domestic travel as vaccination levels increase across the country,” said Barry Rempel, President and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority. “Swoop’s return is an important milestone in our plan to rebuild the region’s connectivity and provides a low-cost option for essential travel today while helping to drive Manitoba’s economic and social recovery when the time is right for further travel.”

AFRAA and ACI Africa join forces to support Africa’s air transport sector

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The African Airline Association (AFRAA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Africa have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support African aviation.

The framework of the agreement will see the two organisations mutually support the development of the air transport industry in Africa through collaborative actions to address safe, secure, seamless, environmentally-friendly and affordable air travel.

Signed by AFRAA’s Secretary General, Abderahmane Berthé and ACI Africa’s Secretary General, Ali Tounsi, the MoU will align both organisation’s actions and see them working together to address areas such as: The promotion and sharing of best practices to foster constructive engagement between airport operators and air carriers; safety enhancement initiatives in line with the Abuja Safety targets; promotion and implementation of new technologies in air travel; data and intelligence sharing; ensuring affordable airfares in Africa using a holistic approach for the reduction of the cost of air travel; Joint initiatives on how to render air travel more affordable across the continent.

Commenting on the MoU, Berthé said, “The high cost of airline operations in Africa negatively impacts the viability of African airlines and hinders the sustainable growth of air transport industry in the Continent. One of the constituents of these high costs is the high aviation-related taxes in the region. Through concerted efforts under the framework of this MoU, AFRAA and ACI Africa will foster regular constructive dialogues with the respective members of our organisations on aviation taxes which will lay the foundation for joint actions and advocacy.”

He added that the agreement comes at a time when the global aviation industry is navigating turbulent times and this collaborative apporach will commit both organisations to a “stronger working relationship for the development of air transport in Africa.”

Meanwhile Tounsi reference how the MoU was long overdue and stated that, “the development of a safe, secure and financially viable and sustainable air transport industry in Africa cannot be undertaken without a strong and enhanced collaboration between airports and airlines.” He also noted that, “The MoU will indeed facilitate the concrete and tangible delivery of services by both our organisations and the implementation of joint actions to advance the air transport industry on the continent.”

Adolf Wurth Airport uses cloud-based ATC solution to monitor air traffic

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Adolf Würth  Airport in Germany has been using a cloud-based air situation display system called PHOENIX WebInnovation since July 2020 to faciliate safe air traffic management (ATM).

The innovative tool runs on an on-premise cloud in the airport control tower and was developed by DFS Aviation Services in Langen, a subsidiary of DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung. Suitable for a wide range of applications, PHOENIX WebInnovation offers users an innovative way to monitor the air and ground situation of air traffic in real time and with the usual high level of quality demanded by ATM.  It is also a very flexible solution that is hardware and location independent thanks to the use of an online cloud and access via the internet but also with the option for local installation. At Schwäbisch Hall the system was integrated into the existing system infrastructure of the airport control tower.

With cloud solutions still fairly unusual in the ATM sector, the installation of PHOENIX WebInnovation in the control tower at Adolf Würth Airport has enabled the aerodrome to efficiently carry out its Aerodrome Flight Information Services (AFIS).

“The substantial mix of IFR and VFR traffic, as well as business aviation and air sports, presents a major challenge in Schwäbisch Hall [where the aerodrome is based]” said Peter Wohlleben, Managing Director of Flugplatz Schwäbisch Hall. “PHOENIX WebInnovation enables our AFIS officers to always have a complete picture of the overall traffic situation.”

Meanwhile, Andreas Pötzsch, Managing Director  of DFS Aviation Services added: “Air traffic control along with its infrastructure is a highly safely-critical industry. We ourselves are an air navigation services provider and we also develop and sell international air traffic control systems. Therefore, we have the same high requirements for our systems and infrastructure as the rest of the aviation industry. We are convinced that cloud technology today has advanced so far that it is able to reliably fulfil these high safety and performance criteria. Now, during the current difficult economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it is time to take advantage of this great potential and adopt new approaches. Cloud solutions enable greater flexibility, simplify processes and reduce costs.”

Clermont Ferrand becomes first airport in France to offer SAF on ongoing basis

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Manged by the French airport operator,  VINCI Airports, Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Airport is the first French airport to make sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) available to its users. The SAF is being supplied by Air bp.

The airport’s first SAF fuelling took place on 19 April when Air bp customer, Michelin Air Services, uplifted the fuel. Michelin will be supplied according to agreed commitments for ongoing supply at the airport with all its volume supplied as the SAF blend. This demand from Michelin means that approximately 30% of the airport’s total volume will be supplied as this SAF blend.

Other customers are also encouraged to come forward and work together with the airport and fuel supplier to establish an agreement for the supply of SAF. The SAF supplied by Air bp is made from waste based sustainable feedstocks such as used cooking oil, which is blended with traditional jet fuel. The SAF supplied is around 35% SAF and the SAF component provides a lifecycle carbon reduction of around 80% compared to the traditional jet fuel it replaces.

The supply of SAF is one of the key items on VINCI Airports’ environmental commitment to decarbonising aviation, as they can be implemented easily, while other technological innovations, such as hydrogen-powered aircraft are still being developed.

“Sustainable biofuels are a short-term solution to decarbonise aviation, and are an integral part of the ambitious environmental strategy we have been pursuing since 2015 to reduce our carbon footprint and engage our stakeholders in the same movement,” said Nicolas Notebaert, CEO of VINCI Concessions and Chairman of VINCI Airports.

Highlighting the importance of collaboration between fuel supplier, airport and customer in driving demand for SAF, Corine Brunet, CEO Michelin Air Services said: “With Air bp, Michelin Air Services has found a partner that listens, makes proposals and is efficient in its implementation of this shared approach to seeking lower carbon options in the aviation sector.”

Meanwhile, Andreea Moyes, Sustainability Director, Air bp, said: “We are excited to see our first ongoing SAF supply in France. Air bp is a strong facilitator in the supply of SAF and recently announced a number of agreements in the UK. This underlines bp’s commitment to working with stakeholders to explore its viable sale and purchase, which we believe is one of the aviation industry’s key routes to reducing carbon emissions and supports bp’s net zero ambition.”

The supply of SAF at Clermont Ferrand follows the ongoing supply of SAF at three UK locations in the last month: London Biggin Hill, Airbus-owned Hawarden Airport in North Wales and Centreline FBO in Bristol.

Luton Airport expands COVID-19 testing capability

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Ahead of the planned restart of international travel, London Luton Airport (LLA) has opened a new in-terminal COVID-19 testing facility with Collinson, a COVID-19 testing provider.

Complementing the existing drive-through facility in the airport’s mid-term car park, the in-terminal expansion will offer the full range of Government-approved COVID-19 tests. Collinson is currently the only provider to have a rapid RT-LAMP solution, which unlike RT-PCR tests which can take up to 48 hours, can release travellers from quarantine the same day. Luton’s testing facilities are able to conduct 144 tests per hour, with the ability to scale up to meet a surge in demand once travel restrictions are lifted.

“Opening this in-terminal testing centre at LLA will offer access to all the necessary travel testing solutions, providing passengers further confidence in their availability to travel safely. This is  another vital step in our preparations to kick-start our recovery once restrictions are lifted,” said LLA Operations Director, Neil Thompson.

The new in-terminal facility is available for staff and members of the public seeking extra reaasurance or to check if they have previously had the virus. And as tests are provided by Collinson, they do not draw on NHS capacity. “For both consumers and the industry, travel testing is key to a successful summer,” said David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson. “With flexible, convenient testing processes, administered by a medical professional, passengers flying through Luton Airport can rest assured that all of their testing requirements are catered for when travel opens up once again.”

Ahead of the planned restart of international travel, London Luton Airport (LLA) has opened a new in-terminal COVID-19 testing facility with Collinson, a COVID-19 testing provider.

Complementing the existing drive-through facility in the airport’s mid-term car park, the in-terminal expansion will offer the full range of Government-approved COVID-19 tests. Collinson is currently the only provider to have a rapid RT-LAMP solution, which unlike RT-PCR tests which can take up to 48 hours, can release travellers from quarantine the same day. Luton’s testing facilities are able to conduct 144 tests per hour, with the ability to scale up to meet a surge in demand once travel restrictions are lifted.

“Opening this in-terminal testing centre at LLA will offer access to all the necessary travel testing solutions, providing passengers further confidence in their availability to travel safely. This is  another vital step in our preparations to kick-start our recovery once restrictions are lifted,” said LLA Operations Director, Neil Thompson.

The new in-terminal facility is available for staff and members of the public seeking extra reaasurance or to check if they have previously had the virus. And as tests are provided by Collinson, they do not draw on NHS capacity. “For both consumers and the industry, travel testing is key to a successful summer,” said David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson. “With flexible, convenient testing processes, administered by a medical professional, passengers flying through Luton Airport can rest assured that all of their testing requirements are catered for when travel opens up once again.”

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport’s $13.5m runway rehabilitation project gets the green light

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California-based San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is all set to start its runway rehabilitation project in early July, with work due to be completed by 8 October.

The runway 11-29 rehabilitation project is a comprehensive upgrade to the main runway and its taxiway connectors and in line with the latest federal safety standard, it will correct issues with the aging runway pavement. It will also include an upgrade of the entire SBP runway lighting system which includes runway lights and lighted direction signs to provide energy efficient runway lighting systems. The runway rehabilitation project will not expand the runway or change any use of the facility.

All flight operations will be impacted during the numerous closures of the airport, which includes two 48 hour periods of complete closure, as well as multiple nightly 12 hour closures.

“The rehabilitation project will correct issues with the aging runway pavement, bring the airport in line with the latest federal safety standards, and provide a more energy efficient runway lighting system,” said Courtney Johnson, Director of Airports. “We look forward to working with our partners at Granite Construction Company and Mead & Hunt to complete this project on time and with minimal impact to our passengers”

The $13.5 million project is being entirely funded by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and is the county’s, as well as the airport’s first Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) project. Granite Construction Company has already been collaborating with project designers Mead & Hunt before construction to prepare the site, establish a guaranteed maximum price (GMP), and design a schedule that mininises effects on air service.

San Luis County Regional Airport is served by three commercial airlines with flights to several major US hubs. The airport is also home to full-service general aviation and corporate facilities.