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Heathrow's air traffic radio set for shiny digital upgrade from Northrop

With built-in web servers. Yup, you read that right

Heathrow Airport is to get new air traffic control radio systems with a surprising amount of internet connectivity baked into them.

Northrop Grumman is supplying Britain's busiest airport with its Park Air T6 air traffic management product.

This will replace Heathrow's existing radio equipment, used by air traffic controllers to communicate with (mainly) airliner pilots arriving at and leaving London's various airports.

"The Park Air Sapphire system at Heathrow also includes MARC Server, a configurable browser-based control and monitoring system allowing management of all the Sapphire assets from remote desktops or tablets," Northrop Grumman said in a statement.

The system will be operated by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Britain's largest privatised air traffic control company. NATS engineers and controllers were trained on the new system in Peterborough.

The Park Air (a UK-based subsidiary of Northrop Grumman) website goes into a little more detail about the radios' digital connectivity features.

We are told the T6 sets feature "SNMP v3 with enhanced encryption and authentication, and a secure web server interface with HTTPS and IPv6/IPv4 compliance" as well as remote firmware update capabilities.

It is also capable of generating ACARS messages, which is a sort of text-messages-for-airliners system that displays messages in an airliner's cockpit for pilots to read.

Digital connectivity is no surprise in a modern air traffic control system. Although the radios themselves incorporate web servers, one could (and should) expect that these will be as heavily locked down – and with NG's military networking experience on Heathrow's side, they should be as secure as a very secure thing locked inside a secure safe. ®


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