Southwest To Deploy Wireless Ground Communications

AIN Air Transport Perspective » December 12, 2011
Flightcom commercial aviation pushback communications system
A wireless communications system for airline ground handling crews from Flightcom augments hand signals and wands to guide taxiing aircraft. (Photo: Flightcom)
November 30, 2011, 5:52 PM

Southwest Airlines says it will be the first major airline to widely use a wireless, ground-support communications system to improve safety and operational efficiency during pushback operations. The airline plans to deploy the Flightcom pushback system for commercial aviation at 425 gates at 73 airports in the U.S. by the first quarter of 2012.

“We currently operate more than 3,400 daily flights, and with the acquisition of AirTran, we will soon operate more than 4,000 daily flights. We have also entered into new markets, some of which have congested airports [i.e. La Guardia]. We felt like now was the right time to enhance current processes and procedures for our ground crews,” Marc Stank, Southwest senior manager safety, standards and regulatory compliance, ground operations, told AIN.

Based on wireless headsets, the “hands-free” system from Flightcom Corp., of Portland, Ore., supports full-duplex, or simultaneous two-way communications, among ground operations personnel, plus “push-to-talk” communication with pilots. The system connects one or more “wing walkers” in a ground-handling crew with the tractor operator maneuvering an aircraft from its gate. The headsets do not require a wired belt pack, have a range of 1,600 feet and provide protection against hearing damage, according to Flightcom.

In the cockpit, a communication “bag” is plugged into the aircraft’s communications panel. This contains wireless transmitters for the headsets and interfaces with the captain’s ground intercom.

One ramp incident and nine injuries occur every 1,000 departures, costing airlines $10 billion per year, according to Flightcom. Real-time verbal communications augment the traditional approach of using hand signals and wands to guide aircraft on the ground, improving safety, the company says.

Southwest has relied on a single headset connected to the aircraft and worn by the tractor driver to communicate with the aircraft captain. The wing walkers use hand signals to communicate with the pushback driver. “This obviously has its limitations,” Stank said. “You have to be looking at one another constantly and can be limited by line of sight.” He said the airline has added an hour of training for all ramp employees to use the new communications system.

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Dustin Davis
on December 12, 2011 - 3:34pm

iteresting.

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HOSSAM ADEL
on July 3, 2012 - 12:00pm

PLEASE SEND US THE GROUND TO COCKPIT W/L HEADSET. WITH THE PUSH BACK KIT WITH BATTARIES &CHARGERS WITH SHIPPING COAST CIF
EAS EGYPTIAN AVIATION SERVICES
CAIRO IN'L AIRPORT
EGYPT
+201110665553

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David
on April 6, 2013 - 7:45pm

These headsets do not work as advertised. They have very little range and cannot work in the rain.

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Mike
on June 11, 2013 - 8:58am

we have a wireless system currently being used on all Boeing flightline operations. It is a US military approved engineered product that has a range of 2500 feet, line of sight and is waterproof! It has 100 channels with up to 31 users per channel. Contact me for more info. Mike 631-962-1519

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