The scratchy and time-consuming radio transmissions that pilots use to communicate route changes before taking off from airports may soon be a thing of the past for some airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration is giving the go ahead for a new data and e-mail system that allows tower controllers and airplanes sitting on the tarmac to relay requests and instructions for flight plans. It’s one of the most significant improvements to the U.S. air-traffic system and promises to help unclog airports, save airlines money and reduce emissions, according to the FAA and carriers that have tested the technology.

The system essentially brings the kind of automation now common to a smartphone into an airline cockpit. In trials in Newark, New Jersey, and Memphis, Tennessee, planes flown by United Continental Holdings Inc., United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. were able to cut to the front of departure queues and shave time off delays when bad weather descended.

“Those minutes saved not only help the airplane get out sooner, but it saves gas and frees up taxiway space,” Gregg Kastman, an airline captain for UPS who has helped the freight carrier adopt the new technology. “It really helps.”

The program is being rolled out in increments and will be at more than 50 airports around the country by next year. It’s up to the individual airlines to decide if they want to participate and foot the cost of installing new technology on each of their planes. Those that do will be able to leave quicker during bad weather, according to the FAA.

Bad Weather

Currently, if planes need to be routed around bad weather – – the cause of most airline delays — it requires a lengthy radio conversation with a tower controller to deliver the new track before they can even takeoff.

It’s not uncommon to have more than a dozen planes lined up at busy hubs like Newark or New York’s John F. Kennedy International and each one must take several minutes to receive its new clearance, Kastman said. More time is needed to manually program the route into the plane’s navigation equipment and to check with airline dispatchers to ensure there is enough fuel on board, he said.

Using datalink, a pilot can receive that same new route in seconds. The route is also automatically loaded into the plane’s navigation computer and sent simultaneously to the airline’s dispatchers, also saving valuable time, he said.

Having a text message with the route also reduces the chances that pilots or controllers will misunderstand, thereby improving safety, Kastman said.

This article was written by Alan Levin from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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Photo Credit: The cockpit of Boeings' new 787 Dreamliner is photographed in Houston. Pat Sullivan / Associated Press