Interesting article. Cheers! T7
Texting from tower to cockpit could speed flights
After two years of testing, the Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to expand the use of a new technology that allows air traffic controllers and pilots to communicate via text, speeding up the process of clearing flights for takeoff.
FAA administrator Michael Huerta, along with officials from Fed Ex, UPS and United Airlines demonstrated the technology known as "Data Comm" Thursday at Newark Liberty Airport, where, along with Memphis International Airport, the new communications tool has been tested since 2013.
Data Comm is the latest piece of NextGen,a program that is seeking new air-traffic control equipment and procedures to make air travel safer and more efficient. The new messaging system can whittle the process of clearing a flight for takeoff from minutes to mere seconds, as tasks that once involved a verbal back and forth, writing and typing are reduced to a few clicks of a button.
"It's not hard to see the benefit of this technology,'' Huerta said at a news conference. "Airlines stay on schedule. Packages get delivered on time. Passengers get off the tarmac and into the air and ultimately to their destinations much more quickly.''
Data Comm will roll out to Houston Hobby, Houston Intercontinental and Salt Lake City International airports later this summer. By 2016, the FAA is pushing for the system to be in place at more than 50 air traffic control towers across the U.S. And while use of the technology is not mandatory, officials say that it will likely become the primary form of communication between the control tower and cockpit.
Before planes can take off, air traffic controllers must let the pilot know whether the flight has been cleared. There are times when the flight plan might also have to be modified, with a new route or cruising altitude put in place because of congestion or bad weather.
The traditional way of communicating about the plans and any changes can be tedious. First the controller calls the cockpit, verbally ticking off the details. Then, the pilot has to verbally confirm the plan, and enter the information manually into the plane's flight management system.
"So it's a bit like you're calling your friend,'' Huerta explained. "You're asking for directions to his house, you're writing down what he tells you, there's a lot of back and forth discussion . . .and before you know it 15 minutes have gone by and you still haven't left the house.''
With Data Comm, air traffic controllers click a button to transmit the flight plan to the cockpit. The pilots look it over then push a button to say the plan has been accepted, and the information is automatically logged in the flight management system.
The speed and efficiency cuts down on delays. For instance, a plane would not have to lose its place in the departure queue while the pilots pull out to receive, relay, and type in the details of a new route. Data Comm also increases safety, officials say, averting the errors that can occur during a verbal exchanges.
"Everybody knows voice communications take up time and can lead to miscommunication,'' said Thomas Bosco, director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees Newark Liberty and New York's other major airports.
And not only do flight delays waste time, they waste fuel as well.
"Text clearance saves critical time and that time translates in fuel efficiency,'' said Chris Williams, director of operations for UPS Airlines, which has equipped roughly 44% of its fleet with the Data Comm technology. "We save up to 12 gallons of fuel for each minute that we eliminate from the departure clearance process.''
Huerta said that 800 planes are equipped with the Data Comm technology, and the goal is to more than double that number, to 1,900 aircraft.