A European airport, due to open in December, will be one of the first in the world to be built without an air traffic control tower.

Waiting for travel line on modern airport with copy space
An airport in Sweden will be one of the first in the world to be built without an air traffic control tower©Jasmin Merdan via Getty

Scandinavian Mountains Airport is a new hub that will connect winter holidaymakers in Scandinavia, the US and the UK with Norway and Sweden's largest ski resorts. It will also be one of the first airports in the world to be built without an air traffic control tower on its grounds. Instead, the airport will have a remote or "virtual" air traffic control system, operated by controllers some 300km away in Sundsvall, who will receive the necessary data to manage air traffic and guides flight to safety from multiple cameras and special sensors at the airport.

A digital airport control tower with a wall of screens showing air traffic
Scandinavian Mountains Airport's virtual control tower ©Scandinavian Mountains Airport

The Sundsvall nerve centre already looks after flights from the small airport of Örnsköldsvik in northern Sweden, as well as flights from the nearby Sundsvall-Timra Airport. These airports did away with their towers about three years ago, transferring the job to Sundsvall where operators have a 360-degree-view of the airfields and their immediate surroundings from rows of high-definition screens on the wall.

Take-off digital cameras capture flight movements
Take-off camera tower

Such facilities are becoming common with small airports that don't get a lot of traffic. In Norway, 15 airports are shuttering their towers and transferring operations to remote control rooms, according to the Economist. The publication also reports that airports in Europe, the US and Australia are testing remote towers, while the Telegraph reports that London City Airport has transferred some of its air traffic operations to a hub just outside of Southampton, 80 miles away from the airport. It's the first and most high-profile airport in the UK to do so. By 2020, its existing mast will close and its functions will be transferred to a bigger, 50-metre mast in the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in Hampshire, the UK's first remote digital air traffic control tower.

Lonely Planet's resident aviation expert, John Walton, says that the technology is both safe and well tested and can give operators even more data to work with, as well as allowing airports to manage their flights from anywhere in the world.

Operators give a demonstration in the operations room at National Air Traffic Services (NATS) Swanwick in Hampshire, which will direct aircraft at London City Airport using the UK's first remote digital air traffic control tower © Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty

"Airports and air traffic control organisations have been trialling it since the beginning of the decade. Indeed, with the addition of augmented reality — putting flight number popups on aircraft, or adding data to the screen for fog or nighttime operations — air traffic controllers have more information at their fingertips," he explains. "It can even be more reliable: let’s imagine a fire alarm means a regular physical tower has to evacuate, closing the airport. If that were to happen to a virtual tower location in a remote city, its operations could be moved to another location with a minimum of disruption."

Scandinavian Mountains Airport will open on 22 December, 2019, a 25-minute drive from the ski resort of Sälen (Sweden's largest ski resort), and 40-minutes from the slopes of Trysil (Norway). SAS will operate flights from London Heathrow on Saturdays throughout the ski season.

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