[Avionics Today March 21, 2014] Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the first phase of the Data Communications (Data Comm) Air Traffic Management (ATM) technology under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen program is on track for 2016, according to a National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) official involved with the program.
Data Comm is one of the most transformative ATM overhauls coming to the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) under NextGen. The technology will enhance two-way voice communication between Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) and pilots, significantly reducing delays throughout the NAS by providing an email-like digital communications service for flight plans, departure clearances and route information.
Currently, the majority of flight crews receive verbal route instructions from an ATC prior to taxiing. The pilot then repeats that transmission back to the ATC to ensure that they have the correct information.
However, an aircraft equipped with a Data Comm receiver obtains that same route information digitally, and the pilot confirms by pressing a button in the cockpit. The instructions are then loaded directly into the aircraft's onboard computer system in seconds, significantly cutting down on the minutes pilots waste sitting on the runway burning fuel before takeoff.
Here's what a pilot will see on the cockpit display when using Data Comm for a revised route clearance. Photo, courtesy of NATCA.
"The initial roll out of the FANS [Future Air Navigation Services] DCL [Departure Clearance] capability is on track to for a first site Initial Operating Capability by 2016. The Tower Data Link Services [TDLS] version 12 that contains the capability to send initial and revised clearances directly to the flight deck will be deployed to 56 sites, beginning at Salt Lake City International Airport," said Chad Geyer, the Data Comm Article 48 representative for NATCA.
Harris Corp., which was awarded the FAA's $331 million Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) contract in September 2012, during a fall 2013 interview with Avionics magazine said that the FAA has achieved 80 percent of its avionics equipage goal within the first year of the six-year program.
The FAA and Harris have an airline outreach initiative designed to influence airlines to equip a total of 1,900 aircraft with Data Comm software and hardware by 2019 for Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS). United plans to equip up to 397 of its aircraft over the next six years, though the other carriers have not announced how many they're committed to upgrading with the new avionics.
The second phase of the Data Comm program will deploy Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) to En Route ATC centers, giving controllers even more connection to the aircraft's flight deck with the digital transfer of communications, validation and assignment of altitudes, revised route information and issuance of altimeters, according to Geyer. CPDLC is scheduled for deployment to 20 En Route ATC centers throughout the NAS beginning in 2019.
Data Comm trials are currently occurring at Newark Liberty International Airport and Memphis Airport with United Airlines and four other U.S. carriers that currently wish to remain unnamed. Geyer said that later this year when thunderstorm season brings the need for increased route revisions, controllers and pilots using the technologies at those two airports will see an increased benefit.
Data Comm Terminal automation platform (DTAP) at Memphis International Airport. Photo, courtesy of NATCA.
"In bad weather situations, aircraft are routinely rerouted to avoid weather. The ability to send multiple clearance revisions to departures will reduce the amount of times that an aircraft is waiting for their clearance and not able to depart," said Geyer.
"Certain tasks that are currently only able to be achieved by the radar controller via voice will now be shared among the sector team. This will allow the radar controller time to run a more efficient sector. The ability to send route information that is in a loadable format to the flight deck will not only reduce the time it takes to input the data, but will also reduce input errors that occur," Geyer added.