MINNEAPOLIS – When a pilot gets ready to take off, the most important communication with air traffic control is the flight plan.
Reading via radio where the plane is headed, which climbs to make and altitudes to fly – then the pilot reading it back to confirm — takes several minutes.
Finally, what was long done over the radio can now be done via text.
“I like using it a lot, because it’s clearer to be able to see a route or other instructions in a display versus over a radio frequency that can be very crowded,” said Captain Jon Pendleton, a Delta pilot.
It’s called Data Comm — part of the FAA’s NextGen technology aimed at improving communication between pilots and air traffic control. And it’s now being used at MSP International.
Right in the plane’s navigation screen, rather than over the radio, the pilot receives his flight plan and any changes to it from air traffic control.
“I can load that right into my system, execute that, and have it all taken care of in a matter of seconds, really,” Pendleton said.
From a passenger’s perspective, the change can mean shorter delays. For example, during bad weather, air traffic control needs to change flight plans. In the past, that was done for each plane over radio.
“And imagine 45 other planes waiting for that exact same service,” said Sam Tomlin, MSP flight controller.
Now, they say each delayed flight can save from 30 minutes up to an hour of time spent, in the past, waiting for radio instructions.
“If you’re trying to make a connection, you’re making your connection now,” said Jess Wijntjes, FAA Data Comm Program Manager.
The only problem is not every plane is equipped with the technology. The FAA isn’t requiring it, although most of the major carriers are participating. More than half of Delta’s planes that fly out of MSP have the technology.