Bedfordshire Airport has marked a milestone as the home of the UK’s first operational digital tower. Designed and delivered by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions (SDATS), the system is owned and operated by Cranfield University.

It consists of a sensor mast equipped with high definition cameras, which captures images of activity on and around the airfield. This data is then fed through to a manned operations room (which in this instance happens to also be at the airport), from where traffic in and out of the airfield can be managed.

Describing it as a “historic moment for air travel in the United Kingdom,” Johan Klintberg, CEO Saab Digital Air Services also underlined how the new tower “shows the future of the UK’s aviation sector lies in leading edge technology combined with operational expertise.”

Meanwhile Professor Sir Peter Gregson, vice-chancellor and CEO of Cranfield University said: “The digital air traffic control centre is a significant boost for Cranfield’s global research airport and the research capabilities of the University.”

Pioneered in Sweden in 2015, digital towers enable significantly higher operational efficiency than traditional manned air traffic control towers, as well as lower operating costs and advanced safety and decision support systems.

Offering a unique environment for transformational research into the aerospace sector, Cranfield University is working hard to address the challenges of digital aviation and rethink the airports, airlines, airspace management and aircraft of the future.

“Combined with our existing and future facilities, it will cement Cranfield’s place as the home of the leading aerospace and aviation research, at the heart of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth arc,” continued Gregson.

In light of Cranfield Airport’s news, Irra Ariella, CEO and co-founder of VChain Technology revealed that “this is another brilliant example of innovation in an industry ripe for disruption. It has to be remembered that the aviation industry was not designed for commercial use, especially not on the scale it is today with operations at or above intended capacity.”

She added: “This announcement is especially encouraging because a function as critical as Air Traffic Control must stay at the forefront of technology.

VChain research suggests up to 50% of the manual repetitive process case human errors. It’s simply no longer fit for purpose. IATA is doing a lot to lead that charge with industry thought leadership such as One Identity as well as promoting innovative solutions through IATA Strategic Partnerships, that have proven to have both the expertise and the safety credentials to transition the industry on from manual to digital. This evolution taking place behind the scenes will reduce flight disruptions and enable the industry to meet increasing demand, operational punctuality as well as customer service.

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