FAA defers CPDLC deployment

FAA defers CPDLC deployment

The Federal Aviation Administration today released the second version of its 10-year, $11.5 billion air traffic control modernization plan, reflecting priority changes since Sept. 11.

The long-term goal remains the same, FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey said: to boost capacity for a 30 percent increase in commercial flights, reduce delays and give pilots more freedom in choosing efficient flight paths.

Programs that require a financial commitment from the cash-strapped airline industry have been pushed till they bounce back, said Charles E. Keegan, FAA's modernization leader.

First released in June, the National Airspace System Operational Evolution Plan tackles airplane arrival and departure rates, air congestion, and severe weather at airports and en route.

'We have to make smart choices,' Garvey said. 'We are now putting money in security areas, which we did not anticipate before [Sept. 11].'

FAA has delayed controller-pilot data link communications, which would require airlines to invest in new radio equipment. CPDLC would let controllers and flight crews exchange e-mail over a data channel, freeing voice channels for time-critical communications about weather and traffic. It was to have gone nationwide by 2003 as part of the Free Flight Phase 2 program, but now has been pushed back to 2005. Each plane would require an investment of $10,000 to $25,000 in new CPDLC technology.

'It also requires a large investment from our side, which we may not be ready for,' Keegan said. CPDLC will still undergo tests at FAA's Miami center in June but will be deferred nationally until the agency and the airlines are ready to make a financial commitment.

Despite the Sept. 11 incidents, FAA is downscaling implementation of the Passive Final Approach Spacing Tool, which affects traffic flow and planning for aircraft in terminal air space, Keegan said. The software, which is in use at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, has not proved very beneficial, Keegan said. The agency will conduct more research before considering its use elsewhere.

One project that will be accelerated is the $200 million User Request Evaluation Tool, being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. URET software gives controllers a 20-minute advance look at traffic to detect conflicts in pilots' requests for altitude and route changes.

FAA originally planned to deploy URET in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., and Washington by 2002 and at another 10 centers over the next 10 years. Now a compressed schedule will get the tool to all centers as soon as possible, Keegan said. The modernization plan will be updated every six months.

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