UK’s first digital air traffic control centre opens at Cranfield
The first digital air traffic control centre, which has opened in Cranfield University, replicates what can be seen through the windows of a traditional air traffic control tower.
Cranfield Airport’s new digital air traffic control centre has been officially opened by Aviation Minister, Liz Sugg. The airport is the first in the UK to have an operational digital air traffic control centre.
Over the next few months, the airport will continue its work with the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, in order to complete the transition from a traditional air traffic control 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.
Aviation Minister Liz Sugg, said: “Cranfield’s new control centre is a fantastic example of harnessing technology to improve the efficiency of flights. The upcoming Aviation Strategy consultation will set out how the Government proposes to encourage the use of innovative technology to achieve sustainable aviation growth and enhance passengers’ experience.”
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.
Digital aviation has often been cited as being the next significant business transformation in the sector and one which can support the aerospace industry towards delivering greater customer satisfaction while addressing efficiency, cost and capacity issues.
With the pace of air travel growth already causing strains across the sector, and UK passenger numbers expected to increase by 49 per cent by 2050, solutions other than expansion of airport capacity and ground infrastructure need to be found.
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’.”