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The traditional control tower is about to undergo a technological change. Being built by Cranfield University and Saab, an innovative facility will let air traffic controllers “zoom in” on aircraft as they take off and land.  

The technology that will be implemented from the university’s airport will replicate the view seen through the windows of traditional control towers, with a live panoramic feed across the airfield using high-definition cameras and sensors. Unlike traditional towers, however, operators will also instantly magnify aircraft on their control screens, improving visibility across a 360o view of the airfield.

According to, Saab and the university hope the digital control tower will “provide smarter approaches to air traffic control by digitizing and integrating airport functions,” improving a controller’s situational awareness and enabling quick and informed decisions.

By automatically detecting and highlighting motion from hazards such as birds or unmanned aerial vehicles, digital towers can protect aircraft from serious safety risks, said Bill Read, deputy editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace magazine. “It puts a little box around it on your digital image and you can zoom in on that, then you can see what kind of threat you’ve got,” he told Professional Engineering.

Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports in Sweden became the first to be controlled by digital towers in 2015. Saab is also planning a similar facility at London City Airport, to open in 2019. The towers also offer augmented reality, overlaying aircraft information on the screens.

The confirmation of the digital control tower follows the official opening of the Aerospace Integration Research Center at the university, and the announcement that a Digital Aviation Research and Technology Center is being built at Cranfield.