The Salt Lake City (SLC) International Airport is setting up Data Comm, a tool that will enable pilots to communicate digitally rather than through voice radio conversations.

Data Comm will allow pilots to talk to air traffic controllers through a program that’s similar to text messaging.

Data Comm is part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen initiative, which seeks to update information management, create fuel savings, reduce costs, increase the number of flights, grow safety measures, and decrease carbon dioxide emissions. The FAA began issuing Data Comm technologies to air traffic control towers in 2015 and hopes to have more than 50 towers capable of Data Comm systems by the end of 2016.

“Looking at the future of air travel, we know that there will be more planes in our skies and more people in our airports, and in order to meet this challenge we must integrate cutting-edge technology into our aviation system,” said Anthony Foxx, secretary of the Department of Transportation.

The concern with voice communication is that it can lead to miscommunication. Southwest, FedEx, UPS, American, and Delta are using Data Comm capabilities in Salt Lake City to improve productivity and safety, and reduce delays by flying more direct routes.

Data Comm allows air traffic controllers to send messages to several aircraft at once, rather than managing numerous conversations. During travel delays, such as storms, voice conversations can delay takeoffs 15-30 minutes longer than it would take using Data Comm. Planes with Data Comm systems could be sent directly to the front of the runway during storms because they don’t have to wait to receive voice instructions.

“The SLC Airport supports any technology that assists in keeping flights running smoothly and on schedule,” said Nancy Volmer, public relations director for the Salt Lake City International Airport.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.