RAF To Test Digital ATC Technology In Scotland

Credit: Airbus

LONDON—The British Royal Air Force (RAF) is to test Saab’s digital air traffic control technology at a Scottish airbase.

The digital tower will be set up at RAF Lossiemouth, home to four of the UK’s Eurofighter Typhoon squadrons, and eventually the RAF’s new Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol fleet.

Defense officials have confirmed to Aerospace DAILY that work on the facility will begin in April and be completed in September.

The new facility is seen as an operational concept demonstrator to prove the technology and see if it can be used at other RAF stations.

Operations with the digital tower are expected to begin in late 2020. The RAF has yet to decide whether the system will replace the service provided by the current traditional air traffic control tower at the airfield.

The trials are part of the RAF’s wider Astra project, which is looking at introducing new technology and automation processes into the air arm. It is unclear whether the air force plans to make use of the remote tower capabilities, which would allow several airfields at a time to be controlled from a single site, potentially with reduced manpower. The RAF is experiencing a shortage of air traffic controllers, an issue which has affected training.

The RAF is the second military organization to publicly adopt digital tower technology, with NATO planning to use it at Geilenkirchen Air Base in Germany, home to the alliance’s fleet of Boeing E-3A Sentry airborne early warning aircraft. NATO will use the digital tower for live operations during the refurbishment of the current air traffic control tower.

British civil airfields have already begun embracing the digital tower technology, with Cranfield beginning use of a remote tower at the end of 2018. London City Airport is planning to start using the technology in 2020.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.