Dubbed Data Comm, the technology eliminates the long-winded conversations between air traffic controllers and flight crews that often occur on taxiways when weather forces flight plan revisions, Federal Aviation Administration officials said Friday as the system was unveiled at Los International Airport.
That can shave off six to 12 minutes per flight — time savings that accumulate at an airport and reduce flight delays.
“Think of it as getting driving directions via text instead of getting them over the phone,” said Glen Martin, FAA regional administrator for the Western Pacific Region. “Here at Los Angeles International Airport, Data Comm gives air traffic controllers and pilots the ability to transmit flight plans and other essential messages with a touch of a button instead of multiple verbal communications.
“This switch from voice to text speeds up communications,” Martin added. “It will allow the controllers to send text instructions to several aircraft at once and that increases safety by reducing the risk of miscommunication.”
They are known as “talk back, read back” communications as controllers laboriously verbally relay flight revisions to flight crews who then repeat them back — hopefully, without errors — before taking off.
United Parcel Service pilot Capt. Ed Faith said every minute counts with a minimum of 20,000 people anxiously awaiting the delivery of the 10,000 packages aboard one of their 237 cargo aircraft.
“Text-based departures save critical time,” Faith said. “The time savings also translate into fuel efficiency. We save up to 15 gallons of fuel for each minute we eliminate off the departure procedures.”
Data Comm was implemented at LAX in March and is also now operational at Long Beach Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport, John Wayne Airport and Ontario International Airport, which is UPS’ West Coast hub.
The system, which began testing in April 2013, has been installed in 29 airports nationwide and should be in all of California’s airports by the end of July; on Thursday, Data Comm went operational at Oakland International Airport.
It’s expected to be in 56 airports by year’s end, about 21/2 years ahead of schedule, said Jesse Wijntjes, the Data Comm program manager who is overseeing the system rollout nationwide.
“This is a revolutionary enhancement to the way we do air traffic control in the United States,” he said. “This is making the system more efficient and allowing us to handle more capacity.”
So far, 21 of the 64 commercial airlines that carry passengers in and out of LAX have signed up to use the system, which uses technology already in place in aircraft since 1996. Those airlines using Data Comm include American, Delta, Southwest, United and Virgin America.
But until now, Data Comm was used only to communicate with flight crews flying remote oceanic flights because of the limitations of radio communications.
“We’re the first region in the whole world to use this on the ground,” said Capt. Gregg Kastman, a UPS pilot.
Today, if there’s a line of aircraft awaiting takeoff and flight plans change, an airplane is pulled from that queue if it is not using Data Comm, translating into a delay of up to 30 minutes.
In contrast, an aircraft with Data Comm simply gets new flight instructions uploaded immediately and quickly continues on its way.
About 1,600 aircraft currently use Data Comm; the goal is to up that figure to 1,900 by 2019.