FAA NextGen Data Comm
Revolutionizing Communications Between Air Traffic Controllers & Pilots
NextGen’s Data Comm is live and operating in Salt Lake City as announced by FAA Administrator Huerta proudly:
“The pilot accepts the new instructions with the push of a button, and it’s able to go into the system automatically.”
Data Comm revolutionizes communications between air traffic controllers and pilots by replacing some traditional voice communications with digital information exchanges. Critical flight information has traditionally been exchanged by 2-5 oral exchanges using the VHF radios, but now can be accomplished with what is essentially one text to and one text back.
The traditional voice communications were labor intensive, time consuming and can lead to miscommunications known as “talk back, read back” errors. In devoting time to such transmissions, both pilot and controller were distracted from other equally important tasks in the cockpit and in the tower cab.
NextGen’s Data Comm’s streamlined, two-way data exchanges transmits clearances, instructions, advisories, flight crew requests and reports in an infinitely more efficient manner.
Delta Airlines’ Chief Technical Pilot Patrick Burns explained the view from the cockpit, somewhat humorously, “We’re not going to taxi and text at the same time.” If, for example, in the past, controllers had to transmit something as detailed as a new routing with a list of waypoints which have to be entered into the planes computers, the crew would have to exit the from the line on the taxiway to be able to reconfigure routes. That interruption could consume as much as 15-20 minutes all of which adds to a delay in the schedule. Plus, Captain Burns explained that the plane would have to go to the back of the taxiing line, which equals more delay.
With Data Comm, the text from the tower to the plane is received and transmitted into the plane’s computer → plain and simple benefits by getting the information to the plane simply.
Data Comm was considered important enough by the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), a federal advisory committee composed of aviation stakeholders that it became one of the NAC’s four high-priority, high-readiness operational capabilities in 2014. This air-to-ground data link opens up NextGen to new capabilities and benefits now and into the future.
With that goal in mind, here is the impressive list of 42 ATCTs with fully operational Data Comm systems:
- 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
- Westchester County
- Windsor Locks (Bradley)
The aviation industry is more impressed with quantitative results than qualitative promises. The FAA numbers read like this:
Data Comm is a benefits-driven program, and the FAA is collaborating with industry to ensure its success. Data Comm offers many advantages to operators and controllers. In economic benefits alone, 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.
Time savings is another major benefit. For instance, when pilots read back a series of complicated waypoints in a clearance with even one mistake, they must repeat the instructions until they are correct. A departure clearance using voice communications can take two to three times longer than a departure clearance via Data Comm and becomes even slower as traffic gets busier. At some airports, the process of providing navigation instructions can occur multiple times before takeoff. With Data Comm, each transmission can be quickly sent and received electronically to help avoid delays.
Data Comm is a transformational technology which increases safety, improves accuracy of transmissions and creates new efficiencies. Currently, there are 42 locations with installed Data Comm; the plan establishes another 14 to be implemented by the end of 2016.