New technology helps pilots communicate with air traffic controllers

Data Comm currently used at 4 Florida airports

MIAMI – Pilots and air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport have a new way to communicate with one another.

Many passengers have been stuck on the runway and delayed while a pilot waits for air traffic control communication.

The issue arises because the controller in the tower is likely handling 20 to 30 flights at a time. But a new technology called Data Comm will help eliminate those delays.

"We've seen some pretty amazing results from the tool in Miami," FAA Data Comm program manager Jesse Wijntjes said. "On average, we see across the entire operation somewhere between 6 and 12 minutes of savings on an airplane that actually has the technology and one that doesn't."

United Parcel Service helped pioneer the software with the Federal Aviation Administration.

It will help with what's called the departure clearance phase of flights, which is when pilots and air traffic controllers are communicating last-minute details of a trip, such as requested altitudes, flight plan routes and changes before taking off.

"The tool allows the controllers to send these revisions to multiple airplanes at the same time, which helps them get off the ground and save time and fuel," Wijntjes said.

Data Comm also helps reduce the chance of human error during the process.

Without the technology, controllers verbally go over details and the pilot must repeat all of it back. Now, the vital information goes straight into the cockpit computer.

"Sometimes, especially internationally, it can be difficult to understand what the clearance is," UPS Capt. Gregg Kastman said. "It can be a change in a waypoint, in an airway, and those can be significant problems if you fly in the wrong place."

Data Comm is already being used at 55 airports, including MIA, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Tampa International Airport and Orlando International Airport.

Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers is expected to get the technology in the near future.

The next phase is to bring the software to the skies so controllers can send any changes directly to the cockpit computer instead over the radio.