Teterboro first GA field with datalink clearance

 - April 23, 2008, 12:15 PM

Pilots flying out of New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport no longer have to suffer long waits to get their clearances. Teterboro is the first general aviation airport in the country to have a TDLS (tower datalink services) system, which speeds up clearance delivery and increases airport capacity.

Among other things, the TDLS provides pre-departure clearance and digitized ATIS information. A pilot can obtain clearance on a screen in the cockpit before calling ground control to get taxi instructions for takeoff. If the aircraft has a printer, that information can be printed for future reference, meaning no more copying clearances and no more readbacks.

To receive this datalinked information, an aircraft must be equipped with an FMS and a datalink provider, such as Global Data Center or Universal Weather, whose services are available by yearly subscription at costs ranging from $3,000 to $8,000.

There are 58 TDLS systems in operation at air carrier airports in the country, the first of which went into service in 1995. The system at Teterboro is the first installation of an updated version. The FAA intends to update all 58 remaining systems in service at major airports.

Efforts to get this system for Teterboro were initiated by Peter Bellini, director and chief pilot for Becton, Dickinson and president of the Teterboro User’s Group (TUG), which was organized in 1991 to help improve airport operations. “Pilots based at Teterboro became aware of the system when they flew into major airports that had it, and they were impressed,” said Bellini. “They felt it would be helpful at Teterboro. Many asked, ‘How can we live without this?’”

Although the FAA has funded the system at the carrier airports, it did not do so at Teterboro. “It would have been difficult for the FAA to fund the project because the system was designed to improve efficiency at airports coping with significant delays. The major airports had the most delays affecting the most people. So we went to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was helpful.”

Joe Ritorto, vice president of First Aviation Services and chairman of TUG’s air traffic committee, was a founder of and is a current member of the capacity enhancement task force of the FAA’s Eastern region. He brought the matter to the attention of the task force members and their endorsement of the plan helped put it through. “The Port Authority saw the advantages of the system and agreed to fund it,” noted Bellini.

Susan Baer, general manager of New Jersey airports operated by the Port Authority, hailed the system for its benefits to both pilots and nearby residents: “Aircraft will be able to take off more quickly, which will reduce fuel burn and noise. The system will reduce taxiway and frequency congestion. Pilots are thrilled because it will make their lives easier.” It will also ease the burden on controllers in the tower, particularly at peak hours.

“The updated system now in operation at Teterboro will be installed at the three New York-area carrier airports–La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark–by the end of the summer,” Baer said. “The Port Authority is committed to improving environmental conditions to help the airport’s neighbors.”

At a media briefing, an AIG Global Express on the Teterboro ramp was available for demonstrations of the system. Attendees could see how an aircraft at Teterboro could access the ATIS at Meigs or LAX. A pilot can update the ATIS as a flight progresses so that he or she can detect trends in the weather conditions at the destination airport.

The system can also provide information on weather, runways out of service or navaids that are down, among other things, all without talking to any controllers. This eases the burden on both pilots and controllers.

By getting pre-departure clearances in digital message form, pilots will not have to wait in the long lines on taxiways or in holding areas to get their clearances. “It used to take 35 to 45 seconds to give a pilot a clearance and to get his or her readback,” said Larry Brady, staff specialist at Teterboro tower, who worked on setting up the system. “Now it takes five seconds. Pilots just call and tell us they have their flight plan clearance and ATIS, and they’re cleared by ground control to taxi.”    

Although pilots who have been using the system at major airports report congestion and ground delays have been reduced, there has been no study to determine to what extent capacity enhancement has been improved.