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Pilots, air traffic controllers shifting to text messaging

Staff Writer |
Airline pilots and air traffic controllers are on schedule to switch to text communications at most of the nation's busiest airports by the end of the year.

This is a milestone that holds the potential to reduce delays, prevent errors and save billions of dollars in fuel cost, says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Controllers and pilots will still use their radios for quick exchanges like clearance for takeoff and in emergencies and situations where time is critical. But the nation's air traffic system is gradually shifting to text messages for a majority of flying instructions.

The revolutionary NextGen technology called Data Communications (Data Comm) is now operational at Washington Dulles International Airport, FAA said.

“There is tremendous benefit in this change in the way pilots and air traffic controllers communicate,” said Jim Eck, Assistant Administrator for NextGen. “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.”

The media saw Data Comm in action today during a tour of the Dulles air traffic control tower, a UPS Boeing 767 and a United Airlines Boeing 777. The FAA demonstrated how the NextGen technology enhances safety and reduces delays by providing text-based messaging capabilities between air traffic controllers and pilots.

Representatives from the FAA, UPS, United Airlines, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists were on hand to give their perspective on a technology that is revolutionizing critical communications, beginning with departure clearance services at 56 airports 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 such as Dulles, 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.

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