Cranfield Airport between Bedford and Milton Keynes gets a ‘smart’ air traffic control centre

Cranfield Airport's new Digital Air Traffic Control Centre today officially opened by the Aviation Minister, Liz Sugg
Cranfield Airport's new Digital Air Traffic Control Centre today officially opened by the Aviation Minister, Liz Sugg

Technology is replacing what air traffic controllers can see out of the window with digital displays.

Cranfield Airport’s new Digital Air Traffic Control Centre was last week officially opened by aviation minister, Liz Sugg.

The airport is the first in the UK to have an operational digital air traffic control centre.

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.”

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

Aviation Minister Liz Sugg, said: “Cranfield’s new control centre is a fantastic example of harnessing technology to improve the efficiency of flights.”

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Cranfield University, will be a significant boost for Cranfield’s global research airport and the research capabilities of the university.

He said: “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.”

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.

With the pace of air travel growth already causing strains, 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.

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.

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.