The FAA announced plans to modernize airports starting with Charlotte Douglas.
Every flight going in and out of Charlotte must go through air traffic control, but the exchange between air traffic controllers can take a while, especially if the pilot can’t repeat the instructions back exactly.
“You get one person saying one thing and passing it down the line and another person saying the same thing and by the time you get to the fifth person, it is something different than you started with,” explained Jeff Woods, who is with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
El Bolton, Assistant Administrator of NextGen for the FAA says new technology could streamline the process.
“That can take six or eight minutes per flight, if we have Datacom in place, it can be done in 30 seconds.”
The first phase of the NextGen will roll out a texting service, allowing controllers to contact pilots about weather conditions or route changes via text. Bolton says the information will go directly into the flight navigation system, lessening the chance of human error. It would not only save time for controllers and pilots, but save travelers time, too.
“It really is something that the customer will ultimately be able to get the benefit, because they won’t be stuck in the airplane as long,” said Jack Christine, Deputy Aviation Director for Charlotte Douglas Airport.
Charlotte will be one of a few dozen airports to get the Datacom technology in 2016; however, it will be the first airport in the world where controllers will have access to planes from the gate.
“You won’t move out of the gate area unless there is a place for you to go,” said Bolton. “Right now, they board you as quick as they can and they push you out there to get you in line. If you’re not sitting on the tarmac, then the engine isn’t running, you’re not burning fuel, so that saves cost to airlines and maybe they will pass that along to the consumer.”
The savings could go further. Bolton says 55 minutes of a 74-minute flight from Charlotte to Washington D.C. is spent in the air. The rest is spent on the tarmac. This new system could cut travel times.
A third phase of the NextGen modernization plan includes revising routes to make them more efficient and more direct. That is expected to roll out in 2017.
So far, $4.5 billion has been spent to make these upgrades.