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Next Gen Air Traffic System Saving Time, Money At MSP

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Inside the FAA air traffic control tower at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, communicating flight information with pilots is critical. Getting planes in and out of the skies requires accurate instruction, with zero room for errors.

That's why pilots and controllers are putting down the microphones and talking by text. It's a computerized "next generation" communications system known as Data Comm.

"Data Comm makes it easier to make flight plan adjustments to avoid weather and ease congestion by moving away from traditional voice communications between controllers and pilots," FAA assistant administrator James Eck said.

It's been in use at MSP since November. Information that could take minutes to read aloud, and often gets repeated to clarify, takes mere seconds to appear by text.

Delta Cpt. Jon Pendelton has been flying commercial aircraft for 32 years. Pendleton says the shift away from radio instructions to text is far more accurate and efficient than the standard voice clearance system.

"We can data link messages from the tower to the cockpit, which is sometimes more clear and easy to read," he said. "It's just like text messages or email instead of a long voice conversation."

In addition, the new system will reduce the chance for errors while saving both time and money.

"For every one-minute of improved taxi time in the Delta system, we save 4.6 million gallons of fuel per year," Delta Line Operations Cpt. Rich Terry said.

That's good for the pocketbook, passengers and our environment.

Data Comm is now in use at 55 of the nation's busiest airports. Delta expects to have the new software installed in half of the carrier's fleet of aircraft in the next couple of years.

Pilots say the system is especially useful when controllers instruct them to change flight plans to avoid weather or air traffic congestion.

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