Transport Airlines

U.S. air communications comes into this century; FedEx to test new system

Sep 11, 2012 11:51 am

Skift Take

The FAA’s delayed and bloated NexGen platform is finally taking off — a full decade after transoceanic flights started using similar systems.

— Rafat Ali

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The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen FedEx Express and Memphis International Airport as a proving ground for a text message-based enhancement of flight management computers.

FedEx officials said about 70 aircraft, Boeing 777s and MD-11s, are equipped to participate in trials of the FAA’s data communications technology.

Aviation International News online reported Monday that the first airline trial would begin Nov. 12 in Memphis. Air traffic controllers and flight crews will use a data communications system for pre-departure and revised departure clearances while planes are on the ground.

The industry publication said subsequent operational trials are scheduled to be rolled out at 120-day intervals by United Airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport and then by Delta Air Lines at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The FAA, however, said the trials probably wouldn’t begin until early 2013.

A key part of FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, two-way electronic messaging is considered a money-, time- and labor-saver compared to current procedures that rely on voice communications between flight crews and air traffic controllers.

The FAA envisions data communications eventually handling a majority of pilot-controller exchanges, helping reduce ground delays and saving fuel by enabling more direct, point to point flying.

Modification of the FAA’s Memphis Tower for the trial has been under way this spring and summer. The FAA and FedEx executed a memorandum of understanding in June.

The costly, long-term NextGen initiative is shifting commercial aviation to satellite-based navigation from a World War II era system based on radar.

Pilots have received air traffic control instructions by data communications for more than a decade in transoceanic airspace. FAA officials want to implement an expanded, improved version of the technology for use in continental airspace by 2016.

“FedEx does use data comm in many oceanic areas and remote areas of the world,” said Dan Allen, senior manager of air traffic operations at FedEx Express. “Air traffic control clearances are reviewed for accuracy, then loaded into the flight management computer.”

The new system will feed electronic messages directly into flight management computers, eliminating the step of manually typing information into the computer.

Allen said the trial is expected to improve flow at the hub.

“Although validation of the technology is an important part of the effort, near term benefit is expected from the ability to revise routes very quickly via data comm. Today, during heavy volume periods, delay is often incurred due to frequency congestion.”

Some 30 to 50 FedEx aircraft would participate in the trial on a given day.

(c)2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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