A passenger aircraft, operated by United Continental Holdings Inc, prepares to land as a ground crew member looks on at London Heathrow airport in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Heathrow Turns to AI to Cut Gap Between Flights by 20 Seconds

(Bloomberg) -- London’s Heathrow airport will test an array of ultra high-definition cameras to help determine more accurately when its runways are clear of planes and cut the gap between flights by as much as 20 seconds.

If successful, the system will initially be deployed when Heathrow’s 285-foot control tower is shrouded in cloud -- a situation that currently compels the airport to rely on radar readings to determine the position of jets. That in turn requires a bigger gap between flights, costing the hub nine landings an hour or 20 percent of the usual total.

Views from the cameras will be fed into an artificial intelligence platform from Canada’s Searidge Technologies Inc. that will interpret the images and reveal to controllers when a particular aircraft has cleared the runway, allowing them to clear the next flight to come in to land.

Heathrow Turns to AI to Cut Gap Between Flights by 20 Seconds

Air-traffic-services provider NATs will lead a trial study of more than 50,000 arrivals through March and present findings to the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, potentially paving the way for the system to be deployed as early as this year.

The same technology could also control the airport’s $22 billion third runway due to open for flights by 2025, removing the need to construct a new control tower to oversee the strip north and west of the existing one.

The smaller London City airport is removing its tower altogether and deploying a mast with zoom cameras, allowing flights to be managed from the Swanwick control center more than 80 miles away.

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