UK’s first digital air traffic control centre opens at Cranfield

Cranfield Airport has officially launched its digital air traffic control centre, becoming the UK’s first operational remote installation.

Over the next few months, the airport will continue its work with the regulator, the UK Civil Aviation Authority, in order to complete the transition from a traditional tower to the new digital centre, providing a high-quality air traffic control service.

Supplied by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, the innovative technology replicates what can be seen through the windows of a traditional air traffic control tower. It enables smarter approaches to air traffic control by digitising and integrating airport functions and improves a controller’s situational awareness, enabling quick and informed decisions.

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, vice-chancellor and chief executive 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. Combined with our existing and future facilities, it will cement Cranfield’s place as the home of leading aerospace and aviation research, at the heart of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth arc.”

The new system provides controllers with a 360-degree view of the airport and the ability to zoom-in on aircraft, improving visibility.

Rob Abbott, Cranfield Airport’s Director of Aviation Operations, said: “This is an exciting time for us. The installation of the new Digital Air Traffic Control Centre, as well as significant upgrades to Cranfield Airport’s infrastructure and capabilities, will put us at the forefront of digital aviation.”

Johan Klintberg, CEO of Saab Digital Air Services said: “This is a historic moment for air travel in the United Kingdom and shows the future of the UK’s aviation sector lies in leading edge technology combined with operational expertise.  Saab and Cranfield University started on this journey in October 2017, and have enjoyed an excellent working relationship that has resulted in today’s success. We look forward to welcoming more UK airports onboard as users of this innovative technology as well as to the research benefits that this facility will contribute to the marketplace.”

There are no digital control towers currently fully operational at UK airports. In 2015, the airports in Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall in Sweden became the first in the world to be controlled via digital air traffic control in Sundsvall.

As well as serving Cranfield Airport, which is owned by Cranfield University, the Digital Air Traffic Control Centre is an integral part of the £67 million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC). Scheduled to open in 2020, DARTeC will address research challenges facing the aviation industry such as:

  • the integration of drones into civilian airspace;
  • increasing the efficiency of airports through technological advances;
  • creating safe, secure shared airspace through secure data communication infrastructures; and
  • increasing the reliability and availability of aircraft through self-sensing, self-aware technologies.

Co-investment support for DARTeC is being provided through a consortium of leading aerospace and aviation companies including Thales, Saab, Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited and Aveillant – as well as Research England and Cranfield University.

Professor Graham Braithwaite, Director of Transport Systems at Cranfield University and Principal Investigator for DARTeC, said: “This as an important step in the vision for DARTeC, which will spearhead the UK’s research into digital aviation. The Digital Air Traffic Control Centre will enable greater integration between aircraft and emerging technologies such as drones and autonomous vehicles. This is a prime example of our commitment to re-imagining ‘the airport of the future’.” Read SDATS eyeing UK market after taking over operations at two Swedish airports