Coded clearances going nationwide next year

 - February 6, 2007, 4:33 AM

Coded departure routes (CDRs) are proving so popular with business jet flight crews that the FAA plans to expand the trial program into nationwide service.

If all goes to plan, scores of pilots will be able to use the shorthand digital clearances at airports across the country starting next year, according to officials.

Airlines have been using CDRs for the past three years and the routes were expanded last year to business aviation at three Northeast airports as part of a test program. Arinc Direct has been offering the CDR capabilities for business aircraft under the trial, which has shown good results at Teterboro, N.J.; Morristown, N.J.; and Westchester County, N.Y. airports.

Essentially, CDR clearances let ATC issue revised instructions to pilots using simple eight-digit codes to specify an entire flight plan, based on any one of about 16,000 pre-composed routes the FAA publishes between U.S. city pairs. Need to fly from Teterboro to West Palm Beach, Fla.? There’s a CDR in the database.

By reducing the time needed to re-route airplanes, CDRs have helped cut departure delays during bad weather and at peak times, according to the FAA. The major benefit for pilots of business aircraft has been the ability to get those airplanes out of the airport more quickly when departure delays occur, said Arinc program manager Dan Tillotson. Any pilot who has tried to depart Teterboro or Westchester County on a Friday night, especially when the weather is bad and getting worse, will immediately understand the value of a CDR, he added.

So far about 50 Arinc customers have elected to participate in the program, which is offered at no additional charge to customers of the company’s flight planning services.

“Arinc supports CDR-capable customers by allowing them to compute a base flight plan, plus flight plans for all stored CDRs for their departure and destination airports,” explained Tillotson. “In addition, we give them the estimated time en route, the fuel needed for each CDR and provide them with a CDR recall number.”

So how do CDRs work? Before takeoff, when ATC issues its initial clearance or advises the crew of a re-route, the controller provides the CDR from the national database. The pilot then uses an Arinc-provided recall number to request the route, and Arinc Direct sends the flight plan by datalink directly to the airplane’s flight management computer. The process takes just a minute or two.

Considering that the time it takes to read a full route clearance can tie up a frequency for a minute or more, CDRs have been a godsend for controllers at busy airports, where by necessity commands are often issued at the pace of a cattle auctioneer at the state fair. As long as “CDR capable” is listed in the remarks section of the flight plan, the controller knows he has the option of issuing the flight plan using the digital shorthand, freeing his time to deal with other aircraft.

The pilots of CDR-capable aircraft benefit because they can be released sooner than other pilots. As an added bonus, CDRs are far simpler to deal with in the cockpit.
“The crew doesn’t have to create a new flight plan, or enter each individual waypoint into the FMS themselves,” noted Tillotson, adding pilots say they love CDRs.

Three additional airports–La Guardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark–will be added to the program early next year and, barring unforeseen problems, it is expected to be rolled out nationwide later next year, Tillotson said.

To participate, flight crews must review a PowerPoint presentation and a CDR procedures document, both of which can be found on the NBAA Web site.