Going digital: Are digital control towers really the future?


Neil Bowles, Executive Vice President, Searidge Technologies, considers the potential of remote tower technology.

Digital. Virtual. Smart. Remote. These names, and more, have been used to describe the use of video technology to provide safe and efficient air traffic service. As more and more digital tower systems have been introduced, airports and ANSPs have adopted different terms to describe them. And the reality is that these terms reflect the growing number of operational use cases where the technology is being implemented.

Would it surprise you to know that we are working with partners who want to build a digital tower for the following reasons?

• Replace an existing control tower that is approaching the end of its operational life

• Support airport expansion through the addition of a new runway, without having to build a new tower

• Enable the airport to remain open in the event the main tower becomes unusable

• Deliver resilient operations in the face of pandemics by enabling ATC staff to be physically separated while maintaining safe services.

If aviation was to start from scratch today, would airport planners decide to build a tall, expensive tower structure to house air traffic controllers, engineers and operational support staff? Or would they consider placing video sensors closer to key parts of the airport to provide better views? And integrate information from ATM data sources to provide data to air traffic controllers, where and when they need it. A digital tower enables you to have that 360° view of the aerodrome, but also brings distant runway thresholds closer and provide zoomed in views of aircraft on final approach or in the traffic circuit.

Technology and innovation don’t stand still of course, and AI will enable new systems to support air traffic controllers in making decisions, harnessing data available to them in a digital tower. Digital towers are here, but there’s so much more to come.

I will be joining Andy Taylor, NATS Chief Solutions Officer for Digital Towers and Ady Dolan, Heathrow Air Traffic Controller in the second installment of NATS’ Altitude livestream series. We will be discussing the technology that makes all this possible, and the benefits it brings to the operational and business aspects of airport and ANSP operations. Join in the discussion on Wednesday, December 16th at 15:00 GMT.