Pilots are texting while flying – but don’t worry, it’s for a good cause that benefits you.
Historically, pilots and air traffic controllers communicate about routing changes via scratchy radio calls, with the pilot jotting down what the controller said, reading it back for accuracy, and then manually entering the new information into the on-board computer. It’s time-consuming and can cause delays when controllers have to call multiple pilots with updates. But no more. Now pilots and controllers can communicate via text message sent directly to the pilot’s computer. From there, it only takes a few seconds to update the route in the system.
This is all thanks to a new system called Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications, or Data Comm. The program can also message multiple pilots at once, so that 40-minute delay to reroute an entire line of planes gets cut down to just a couple of minutes.
“We really have a tight network that has to be on time,” Capt. Gregg Kastman, a pilot for UPS, told CNET. “I don’t have to do as much writing down, communicating back. It frees up time for me so I can do other stuff.”
Data Comm is only used in the U.S. so far, at 55 airports with seven more towers going in over the summer. Right now the system is mainly used on the ground to help planes navigate pre-departure, but it is expected to be used in-flight by 2019.
“The trick with these tools is a human being might not see something directly over time, but they might wake up one day and say, ‘You know what, I’m not getting delayed as much as I used to before,'” Jesse Wijntjes, the FAA’s Data Comm program manager, told CNET.