FAA chief outlines NextGen test programme

The US plans to test the exchange of data communications between pilot and controller at three sites – in Memphis with FedEx, Newark with United Airlines, and at Atlanta with Delta Airlines.

Speaking at the NextGen Ahead conference held in Washington DC, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) chief Michael Huerta said that the trials were an example of public-private collaboration with airlines that would help move the nation’s modernisation efforts forward.

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“Data Comm is critical to the evolution of our airspace and the successful implementation of NextGen. As with the other components of NextGen, it is about speed and efficiency. It’s a building block of the system,” he told delegates.
He explanied that Data Comm will provide departure clearances for aircraft in written form, like a text, rather than spoken on the radio. Under the current system, any change to a clearance within 30 minutes of push back must be done by a controller talking on the radio. Bad weather can complicate this – and clearances can change many times for multiple aircraft. This causes major departure delays. Sending a revised departure clearance via data significantly reduces the amount of time needed to issue these clearances.
“Data Comm is just one part of the big NextGen picture. But, it shows the relevance and importance of interconnecting technologies. It also shows how important it is to work together as operators, regulators, unions, and airports. This is how we’ll make it work successfully,” said Huerta.
He also told delegates about the progress of using environmentally-friendly Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs), which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power, thus saving fuel.
“At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, we have implemented four of these Optimized Profile Descents in the last year. And the total cost savings by two air carriers there is estimated at $6.4 million per year. These are real benefits that are happening right now,” said the FAA chief.
He also spoke about the advanced aircraft tracking technology ADS-B in which gives pilots greater awareness of the location of other aircraft where there is limited radar coverage.
“On international flights, we expect benefits as well, by using Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast over the Pacific Ocean. Using ADS-B in, pilots will know the location and speed of nearby equipped aircraft, and can safely climb to altitudes where they burn less fuel,” he said. “And by carrying less fuel, the FAA estimates an airline operating between the United States and the South Pacific could earn $200,000 in additional payload revenue per aircraft each year.”