As goes Chicago, so goes the nation. You may have heard that quote before when weather played havoc with the air traffic system, causing rippling delays across
The FAA is now helping to reduce or eliminate one source of delay at Chicago O’Hare and Midway through the use of Data Communications (Data Comm), part of the FAA’s
NextGen air traffic control modernization. Data Comm will help reduce delays by making pilot-controller communications shorter and more accurate, which could help keep a plane in the
departure line and on schedule. It is now operational at both of Chicago’s major airports.
Today, members of the media toured the O’Hare air traffic control tower and a United Airlines jet to see Data Comm in action. Representatives from the FAA, United Airlines, the
National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists were on hand.
Inside the tower, 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.
This process saves valuable time. For instance, when pilots read back a series of complicated waypoints in a clearance with even one mistake – called a “readback/hearback” error
– they must repeat the instructions until they are correct. These corrections take time, and even a short departure clearance can take two to three times longer than one communicated
via Data Comm.
This benefit becomes even more pronounced during bad weather, when Data Comm enables equipped aircraft to take off before an approaching storm closes the departure window,
while aircraft relying solely on voice communications remain stuck on the ground waiting for the storm to pass.
Data Comm is expected to save operators more than $10 billion over the 30-year life cycle of the program and save the FAA about $1 billion in future operating costs.
The first Data Comm-equipped airports; Salt Lake City and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby, received tower departure clearance services eight
months ahead of schedule in August 2015.
The FAA and its industry partners have delivered Data Comm to more than 50 towers to date, almost two and a half years ahead of the original plan. The expansion into en route
airspace is the next phase of the program and will start in 2019.
Data Comm is now operational at these airport towers:
New York John F. Kennedy
New York LaGuardia
Salt Lake City
Windsor Locks (Bradley)