The use of Data Communications (Data Comm) technology began Tuesday at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The technology is part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen Initiative, which seeks to increase safety and efficiency in airports. Data Comm technology enables text-based communication between pilots and air traffic controllers.

“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 technology is beginning by providing departure clearance notifications to operators at 56 airports this year before upgrading the system to include en route airspace communications. At airports like Dulles, air traffic controllers press a button to send a message that tells the pilot that the plane is cleared for takeoff. The flight crew presses a button to confirm that they’ve received the message and presses another button to send the information to the plane’s flight management system.

A departure clearance using voice communications can take two to three times longer than Data Comm because the pilots must ask the controllers to repeat a series of waypoints until they’ve received the instructions correctly, according to the FAA. When pilots use Data Comm, the instructions are handled electronically with minimal human intervention, which prevents mistakes. This technology could allow planes to get off the ground quickly when a storm is about to hit, rather than forcing the plane to wait while it passes.

Data Comm is expected to save operators $10 billion over its 30-year life cycle, and the FAA about $1 billion in operating costs.


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