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.

London City Airport unveils winner of Sustainable Security Bag Challenge

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London City Airport has announced the winner of its Sustainable Security Bag Challenge. TIPA have been awarded £10,000 for developing a fully compostable security bag for London’s most central airport. An initial trial using 25,000 bags is scheduled for spring 2021 in line with the expected return of passengers to the airport.

TIPA have a decade long background in providing sustainable packaging solutions for its clients, which include the UK supermarket giant Waitrose. It’s sustainable security bag will help replace more than two million single-use plastic bags at the airport. It’s winning design is made from fully transparent materials, aligned to regulatory standards, and can be composted at home by passengers or disposed as food waste at the airport.

“When we launched this challenge we said we were looking for an innovative solution that reduces the environmental impacts associated with single-use plastics,” said Liam McKay, Director of Corporate Affairs at London City.

“I am confident that our passengers will love them because the bags are fully compostable without leaving any trace of plastics in the environment – it’s a solution that’s environmentally friendly  and gives passengers peace of mind.”

He added that with sustainability at the heart of aviation’s recovery, “London City wants to work with partners on finding innovative solutions right across the business, that will help us become one of the most sustainable airports of our size.”

TIPA’s VP of Marketing, Merav Koren said: “Consumers are more educated than ever about the impact of single-use plastic and are calling for swift implementation of sustainable solutions to plastic waste and pollution. London City Airport joins other influential players shifting toward bioplastics as a solution to single-use plastic.”

London City gears up for reopening

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Having closed to commercial passenger traffic on 25 March in response to the coronavirus crisis, London City is preparing to reopen for passenger flights on 21 June.

Ahead of that date the airport has conducted  a survey that shows many of its customers plan to get back in the air as soon as possible.

The survey found that an overwhelming majority (79%) were either very likely or quite likely to travel when they are told it is safe to do so by the government and airports or airlines. Almost half of customers (48%) were very likely to do so.

And contradicting claims that business travel is over, 41% of London City’s flyers anticipate they will take a flight for business within the next three months.

Customers’ responses also revealed insights into what passengers expect from the new flying experience. With social distancing and personal hygiene at the front of everyone’s mind, 78% of London City’s flyers said they were more likely to avoid check-in desks, while 65% said having hand sanitiser stations in multiple locations is very important and 85% said they would be more likely to use an airport if they can get to their gate in 20 minutes or less. Additional cleaning of high-touch areas and surfaces was also deemed to be the single most important measure, with 68% of respondents calling it as very important.

Commenting on customers’ responses, Robert Sinclair, CEO London City Airport said: “This clear early demand from our passengers to get back to flying is really encouraging… We have worked hard to create a safe environment at the airport, so they can get back to flying in confidence. At the same time, we have to be careful not to sacrifice the speed through the airport which passengers have always valued and is now more important than ever, as these results show.”

Sinclair added that with the aviation market opening up across Europe this week, “It is my hope that air bridges can be agreed quickly with low risk European neighbours. This news would be a shot in the arm for the industry as well as for the wider UK economy.”

London First Transport Director, Adam Tyndall, added: “Both blanket Foreign Office advice not to travel abroad and the mandatory two-week quarantine for all arrivals into the UK should be limited to the highest risk countries. Aviation can play a vital role in the economic recovery – from exports and professional services through to universities and hospitality – but only if the government removes these indiscriminate constraints and reverts to a nuanced, risk-based approach.”

The first flights to resume at London City Airport will serve domestic routes. On 21 June British Airways plans to operate flights to the Isle of Man. New routes will also begin between central London and Teesside in the North East and Dundee in Scotland on 6 July. These will be operated by Eastern Airways and Loganair respectively.

To help boost regional connectivity, it is also expected that services to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin, will also return in July.