While most pilots understand the inherent dangers of operating a motor vehicle — airplane included — while attempting to fire off a quick text message, the FAA says text-based ATC, also known as controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), is the wave of the future and is taking hold at airports around the United States. The agency expects CPDLC to be installed and operating at all California airports next month.
The system, now operable on most airliners and many business jets, allows text-based messages to replace dozens of repetitive verbal ATC instructions normally passed via VHF radio. The system also saves valuable radio airtime by eliminating regular pilot requests to repeat instructions because messages display directly on a small cockpit screen. CPDLC messages aren’t subject to interference by other pilots’ radio calls either.
Air traffic controllers send or update IFR clearances with the touch of a single button, and pilots confirm everything by pressing an “acknowledgement” button in the cockpit. While CPDLC is not yet ready for small GA aircraft, the FAA says that’s part of the future — although it hasn’t said just when.