Citing budget constraints, senior FAA management has apparently postponed the planned expansion of controller/pilot data link communications (CPDLC) trials beyond the present activity at the Miami ARTCC, AIN has learned. Industry sources report that the decision was based on the high costs of controller manpower.
CPDLC is viewed by the FAA, military and civil aircraft operators as offering significant improvements in ATC communications efficiency by reducing frequency congestion and providing virtually error-free messaging, which in turn increases system capacity. Gradual expansion of the Miami trials to all 20 ARTCCs across the continental U.S. was planned to start in 2005 as part of the Free Flight program.
Cost concerns include CPDLC training and qualification–often requiring substantial overtime–and equipment installation at the eight ARTCCs proposed in the initial phase of implementation. Other budget factors were the planned software modifications to FAA’s HOST ATC computers in 2007, and the agency’s forecast introduction in 2009 of its Nexcom digital voice/data radio system, which would replace the VHF digital link, type 2 (VDL-2), currently used for CPDLC in the U.S. and Europe.
The Miami trials, which are reported to have been highly successful and will continue, currently involve 20 American Airlines Boeing 757s. These will be joined soon by four Delta 767s, four Continental 767s and one USAF aircraft. FedEx and others are planning to join later this year. One corporate jet–operator and type unnamed–was also expected to participate.
Observers fear that the postponed expansion could curtail additional U.S. operator commitment to CPDLC, which could give a boost to Europe’s parallel program, scheduled to commence last month and initially involving 20 aircraft each from Scandinavian Airlines and Lufthansa.