NextGen data communications technology operational at 45 of 56 air traffic control towers in U.S.

Oct. 6, 2016
WASHINGTON, 6 Oct. 2016. NextGen Data Communications (Data Comm) technology, whereby air traffic controllers give pilots final clearance for flight plans via text rather than radio, is now operational at 45 air traffic control (ATC) towers in the U.S., according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

WASHINGTON, 6 Oct. 2016.NextGen Data Communications (Data Comm) technology, whereby air traffic controllers give pilots final clearance for flight plans via text rather than radio, is now operational at 45 air traffic control (ATC) towers in the U.S., according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

“There is tremendous benefit in this change in the way pilots and air traffic controllers communicate,” says Jim Eck, assistant administrator for NextGen, the Next Generation Air Transportation System in the U.S. designed to improve daily operations in the entire National Airspace System (NAS). “Data Comm will allow passengers to get off the tarmac, into the air and to their destinations more quickly. Airlines will be able to stay on schedule and packages will be delivered on time.”

NextGen technology enhances safety and reduces delays by providing text-based messaging capabilities between air traffic controllers and pilots. NextGen Data Comm technology is “revolutionizing critical communications,” FAA officials say. The FAA is replacing voice communications over radio with data comm text messages beginning with departure clearance services at 56 airports (45 are now equipped and operational), before expanding to enroute airspace.

Leveraging equipment already installed on many aircraft, air traffic controllers and pilots are sending and receiving important flight information using digital text-based messages. At towers with Data Comm, controllers enter flight departure clearance instructions into a computer and push a button to electronically send the information to an aircraft’s flight deck. Flight crews view the information, press a button to confirm receipt, and press another button to enter the instructions into the aircraft’s flight management system.

Time savings is another major benefit. For instance, when pilots read back a series of complicated waypoints in a clearance with even one mistake – called a “readback/hearback” error – they must repeat the instructions until they are correct. A departure clearance using voice communications can take two to three times longer than one via Data Comm – and even longer as traffic increases. With Data Comm, transmissions are quickly sent and received electronically to help avoid delays. This benefit becomes even more pronounced during bad weather, when Data Comm enables equipped aircraft to take off before an approaching thunderstorm closes the departure window while aircraft relying solely on voice communications remain stuck on the ground waiting for the storm to pass.

Data Comm is expected to save operators more than $10 billion over the 30-year life cycle of the program and the FAA about $1 billion in future operating costs.

The first Data Comm-equipped airports – Salt Lake City and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby – received tower departure clearance services eight months ahead of schedule in August 2015. The FAA and its industry partners are on target to deliver Data Comm to 56 airport towers by the end of the year.

Data Comm is operational at these airport towers:

Fort Lauderdale
Houston Bush
Houston Hobby
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
New Orleans
New York John F. Kennedy
New York LaGuardia
Salt Lake City
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
Santa Ana
Washington Dulles
Washington Reagan
Westchester County
Windsor Locks (Bradley)

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