2.8 million passengers fly in and out of airports in the United States every day. With passenger demand growing constantly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and their partners must evolve by continually making operational improvements.

Data Communications (Data Comm), an FAA NextGen initiative developed in partnership with L3Harris, provides Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) between air traffic controllers and pilots so they can more efficiently and safely transmit clearances, advisories, flight crew requests, and other essential messages with the touch of a button. Data Comm helped the FAA deliver operational benefits by avoiding air traffic delays in 2018. Despite an increase in bad weather and air traffic between 2017 and 2018, average delays remained flat thanks in part to this NextGen solution.

Deployed at 62 towers across the United States, Data Comm reduces the need for voice communications during pre-departure operations. This saves time on the runway, shortening delays, lowering carbon emissions and reducing errors during peak departure clearance periods. During the year, over 500,000 minutes of delays were saved, more than 600,000 minutes of communications time were saved and 4.7 million kilograms of CO2 emissions were prevented.

2018 Data Comm Delay Savings Impact

Caption: 2018 Data Comm Delay Savings Impact

Data Comm is constantly saving time and fuel for the aviation industry by streamlining pilot and controller processes. Not only does the solution help with passenger movements, but it is being used for the transportation of freight.

“I have easily seen Data Comm save me 7 to 15 minutes in getting a clearance for takeoff. For UPS, we really have a time-critical sort,” said a UPS pilot. “Every minute I’m delayed could affect the transfer of packages onto 40 aircraft waiting in Louisville”

With the ability to send clearances over text instead of voice communications, read-back hear-back errors are more easily avoided. Operators can more effectively focus during peak airport hours.

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Data Comm Safety Benefits

Caption: Data Comm Safety Benefits

“I’ve had several experiences where the controller has to issue a Full Route Clearance, when I point out that the aircraft is CPDLC they immediately breathe a sigh of relief.’ Said a controller at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. “(Received) a reroute, controller sent the clearance via CPDLC and 3 minutes later they were rolling down the runway.  That would have been at least 10-20 min traditionally; if they needed more fuel, (it would have been) up to an hour.”

With air traffic complexity and weather continuing to evolve, FAA and L3Harris stand ready to deliver even greater operational excellence to U.S. and global airspace. Data Comm is transitioning into en route operations to further reduce delays related to weather and congestion. By allowing controllers to send messages directly to pilots en route, United States airspace will continue to be the safest, most efficient in the world.

Together, FAA and L3Harris are developing technologies at the speed of safety to meet tomorrow’s operational demands.