back to article London City airport swaps control tower for digital cameras

London’s City airport is replacing its air traffic control tower with zoomable cameras worked from a base in Hampshire, according to reports. City, a small business-focused airport tucked into the capital’s Canary Wharf district (aircraft landing from, or departing to, the west of the airport actually fly between the area’s …

  1. ZanzibarRastapopulous



    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Because someone is making a lot of money from this being implemented, and stands to make a lot more money when other airports want the same tech.

      Don't be fooled in to thinking this is for safety or anything like that. It's being done for cold hard cash.

    2. wyatt

      Re: Why?

      The why appears to be so they can removal all structures on site and replace them with new ones to handle more passengers. This is more money as more flights will use the runway.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        There's something comforting about knowing that the people responsible for ensuring that the metal box you are sharing with several thousand gallons of high octane fuel are guiding it down from a position very close indeed to where there will be a smokey yellowy-orange fireball if they get it wrong. ;)

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Replacing eyes with cameras. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        "Replacing eyes with cameras. What could possibly go wrong?"

        One word. Outsourcing.

        Hello, how are you today, I hope you are well, my name is Richard and I'm calling to help you with your virus....sorry, wrong help you land your aircraft.

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      They're upgrading SCORPION STARE to work on aerial targets.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      > Why?

      Efficiency. It allows the air navigation services provider (NATS in this case) to provide control to several low-density airports from the same location, with less controllers.

      It is at the moment a bit of an unproven idea and the choice of LCY is not entirely obvious to me (who does not know any of the details specific to this case), but you may see a lot more of it in the future.

  2. Whitter
    Paris Hilton

    It's not all "cyber"

    How physically secure are the cameras in question, be it cables, paint or laser interference?

    What risk from a power cut?

    And so on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not all "cyber"

      The correct question is how much *more* risk does damage to those systems represent versus a tower on site. I suspect the answer is "not much". Given how inter-connected air traffic control is, there are probably critical cables and critical cameras and critical networks at every tower, whether the tower is a real building or an office space fifty miles away. If someone starts pulling cables or throwing lasers at your real tower it's going to be shut down just as surely as a virtual one.

      The higher risk elements are going to be that this is all digital. If they're shut down, or if the (presumably new) software doesn't perform, they're really shut down. There's no degradation of service, with binoculars and manual tracking, it's just shut. They can probably only get away with this because City's flights can easily be absorbed by Luton, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not all "cyber"

        "They can probably only get away with this because City's flights can easily be absorbed by Luton, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted."

        There's also Southend, and the last couple of times i've come into City we flew over the Essex coast and up the Thames.

    2. Magani

      Re: It's not all "cyber"

      Despite all the much-trumpeted built-in redundancies, experience has shown that all it will take is a hung over JCB | Back-hoe | Ditch Digger driver to turn it all to rancid dingo kidneys.

      1. collinsl

        Re: It's not all "cyber"

        *3 diggers - when NATS say they have redundant paths, they really mean that. Physically separate cables that leave the network buildings (normally in pairs but in this case I reckon in threes) in different directions going to different cabinets going to different exchanges and going over different physical bearers in different trunks all the way to Swanwick, which has at least 4 different incoming links in different directions from different cabinets from different exchanges etc.

        BT got into a bit of trouble with them years back for accidentally re-routing a cable into the same physical trunk leaving the head office building (not the ATC building) so they take this very seriously.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's not all "cyber"

          And those three independently routed cables will all pass the same disused church at some point on their route...

    3. collinsl

      Re: It's not all "cyber"

      You can ask the same questions about the NATS radar sites around the country - without them we can't see the planes and there's not normally much of an overlap between each one, so if one went out you'd have a large dark section.

      There are procedures in place to deal with the loss of a radar tower, which is extremely unlikely due to the multiple layers of redundancy and the amount of maintenance etc that gets done on these sites.

  3. macjules Silver badge

    Well ..

    They don't really fly between the towers you know. Though it is a bit weird to be in a plane looking up at people in the Shard as you fly past.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well ..

      Came here to comment just that, the glidepath is steeper than normal for a City Airport approach. The planes are about 2,000ft when they fly over the Isle of Dogs - more than double the height of the buildings there. They've barely got their wheels down by Canary Wharf. The same goes for the Shard, which is even further out. You're not "looking up" at the Shard in a plane, unless something has gone horribly wrong!

      Used to live between CW and LCY, loved watching the planes, more than made up for the noise :-) From the ground, it looks a lot closer, but only because we are terrible as humans at gauging vertical distance.

  4. Stuart 22


    Sounds great when everything is working to plan. But can you beat an eyeball when it ain't going to plan? I mean a plane turning left instead of right. Looking out on City Airport in 180 degree 3D reality colour the anomaly should register. But will it register if it isn't on the screen the remote controller is currently looking at?

    But then does anybody look out of the windows these days? I've never seen anyone cleanin'em

    1. The other JJ

      Re: Eyeballing?

      Some years ago it was identified that accidents on the ground weren't decreasing at the same rate as those in the air, in fact taxiway collisions, runway incursions and wrong runway taxis were increasing with heavier airport use, so systems were introduced to monitor planes on the ground and raise alerts if they went where they shouldn't be.

    2. collinsl

      Re: Eyeballing?

      Cleaning gets done at night when there's no traffic at Heathrow or City - and when it's dark so looking out of the windows is less important

  5. PerlyKing

    Flying between skyscrapers?

    Citation needed!

    1. molletts

      Re: Flying between skyscrapers?

      > Citation needed!

      Nah, you can do it in an Airbus, easy! :-P

    2. StephenD



      But the angle is misleading and the planes really pass a long way to the north of the tall buildings.

      1. Aqua Marina

        Re: Optional

        Cockpits eye view landing video here. Looks amazing, lands to a standstill in half the runway, then performs a u-turn!

    3. davidhall121

      Re: Flying between skyscrapers?

      Certainly sounds a lot more exciting than the traditional approach that I am used to every week!

  6. GreggS

    Windsor Flight 1-1-4, this is Dulles Approach. Do you copy?

    That concludes our object lesson for this evening

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "redundancy is assured"

    I'm sure the current ATC controllers will be pleased.

    It's just as well that computers never crash nowadays, because now the planes will too. Those times when the ATCs had to jot down the last plane positions and flight nos. from memory then manually co-ordinate landings will be just a memory.

    What they wont mention is the next cost-cutting step which will be to move the NATS control centre to the cheapest offshore location.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I seem to have left an important part of my plane somewhere in a base in Hampshire.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Extra redundancy would have meant windows

    Saw this on the news last night. My first thought was I can see the utility in the technology, but why host it 50 miles away? If it does all go tits up, it would be reassuring to know the controllers could still go and look out the window if they needed to.

    1. Aitor 1

      Re: Extra redundancy would have meant windows


      They could have made a room available just by the airport, with no cables to be cut..

      But hey, that is expensive. Also that is reasonable.

      Also..HD screens. Really? A wall of frameless 8k screens would allow the controllers to use binoculars.THAT would make sense...but hey 40 8k panels consumes a huge amount of bandwidth.... I wo der if their solution is H264 compressed video..that adds latency..a lot. Forvet about the fiber latency of maybe 2ms..the is compression and display. They are landing planes..problaby with a 100ms lag...that is unacceptable.

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Extra redundancy would have meant windows

        "They are landing planes..problaby with a 100ms lag...that is unacceptable."

        Umm, you do realise that the controllers in the tower (real or virtual) don't actually *control* the aircraft, and if it gets to the point where having a fraction of a second of lag in the virtual view leads to an incident, then things had already gone pretty badly wrong some time ago...

        Now, I'm not saying I don't have some reservations about this idea, however aircraft can and do land and take off quite safely without any assistance from the tower controllers, and there will already be procedures in place to cope with loss of comms with a locally situated tower. So if things were to go completely T.I.T.S.U.P. with the virtual tower then it might make for an interesting few minutes elsewhere in Swanwick as the area controllers shuffle stuff around to cope with the diversions away from City, but it isn't going to cause aircraft on final approach to suddenly drop out of the sky.

    2. collinsl

      Re: Extra redundancy would have meant windows

      Because it's being put in a room in the existing Swanwick control centre which currently handles en-route traffic for the southern half of the UK and the London Terminal Control Centre, plus General Aviation advice and monitoring services.

  11. Jonski

    But what if...?

    "Transtellar Cruise Lines would like to apologise to passengers for the continuing delay to this flight. We are currently awaiting the loading of our complement of small lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment and hygiene during the journey. Meanwhile, we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits again.''

  12. strum Silver badge

    >aircraft landing from, or departing to, the west of the airport actually fly between the area’s skyscrapers

    No they don't. They fly (some distance) above them.

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