FAA begins upgrade project on its controller-pilot comm system

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the first step in rolling out a
next-generation communications system for air traffic controllers and pilots.

FAA last month awarded a two-year, $6.1 million contract to Computer Sciences Corp. to
build the first component, known as Build 1, of the Controller Pilot Data Link
Communications System.

FAA will implement and test the system in June 2002 at the Miami En Route Traffic
Control Center, said Jim Williams, FAA’s ADL product team lead.

“CSC needs to write a lot of software for the system,” said Sonja Whitson,
FAA’s ADL deputy project team lead.

FAA estimates CSC will code about 50,000 lines for Build 1. The company will write the
code in C++ and Jovial, finishing software programming by November of next year, Whitson

FAA will roll out the follow-up data link program, known as Build 1A, at all 20 en
route control centers across the country. The agency will have a key site for Build 1A on
line in June 2003, Williams said.

Data Link will replace or supplement many routine voice messages with digital messages.
When fully implemented, Data Link will use a variety of communications pathways, including
air and ground systems and secondary radar, he said.

“When the frequency becomes congested, stress levels seem to soar,” said Eric
Reumann, controller at the New York Terminal Radar Control Center. “Data Link will
give us a clear channel of communications and free up voice channels for immediate

FAA is upgrading its comm systems because of the growing workload. In 1997, controllers
handled more than 53 million aircraft flights. By 2009, controllers will have to handle an
additional 8 million flights per year, creating a state of aviation gridlock, according to
the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Radio frequencies today can become so congested that controllers force aircraft into
holding patterns even if the air space could accommodate more traffic, NATCA said.  

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