One of the more reassuring things about air traffic control, from the perspective of a layman, is that if all else fails they can just look out of the window in their gigantic tower to guide a plane in safely. But now London City Airport is going to replace the tower with some HD video cameras and put air traffic controllers in a room 80 miles away.
But while it would be quite easy to panic about all of this, the ATC professionals all seem quite calm about it. There's a reason for that too, because while the human eye is an excellent tool, the new ATC allows planes and other objects to be displayed using augmented reality. What that enables is the tagging of planes with information, allowing ATC staff to see where planes are, with their flight information attached.
Video from 14 cameras will be sent to the Nats, which is the company which is in charge of air traffic for several airports. Where in the past the tower has windows around the whole 360 degrees, the video-based system allows the whole view to be compressed into a much smaller space. This gives the airport a slightly curved look, but it's far better than needing to spin around to see what's happening behind you.
The system is able to track all sorts of objects too, which means that anyone daft enough to put a drone up in London City airspace will be discovered quickly. The system can detect objects that fill just four pixels on the display, which is likely an improvement over normal human eyesight.
Other benefits include reducing airport disruption. There's no need to build a new ATC tower to keep up with technology, because the monitoring station is no longer at the airport. Instead, it can be managed miles away and replaced down the line with another system with zero disruption. Nats also says that it can use the video from the feed to keep other airport staff updated on what's happening, including sending valuable visual information to fire service staff should they be needed.
So let's not fear the technology and assume that Nats have thought of what happens if there's a power cut, the internet goes down or someone tries to initiate a cyber attack on the whole thing. Nats says that it's as secure a system as the original ATC tower anyway, so sleep easy weary traveller.
Images from Nats on Flickr
[Via The Guardian]