Texting for Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers at Sea-Tac Airport?

Data Comm allows for digital information exchanges.

Sea Tac tower
Data Comm will replace traditional voice communications with digital information exchanges at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.NATCA photos

The FAA is bringing a new cockpit technology called Data Comm to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to replace traditional voice communications with digital information exchanges.

“Voice communication is labor intensive, time consuming and can lead to miscommunications known as 'talk back, read back' errors,” the FAA said in a press release. “Data Comm, by contrast, enables streamlined, two-way data exchanges between controllers and flight crews for clearances, instructions, advisories, flight crew requests and reports.

“By exchanging digital messages, air traffic controllers, pilots and airline operations centers can communicate more clearly and efficiently. Better communication improves controller and pilot productivity, improves safety, can reduce flight delays and can help aircraft fly more direct routes saving time and fuel while reducing aviation’s impact on the environment.”

The U.S. carriers benefiting from Data Comm’s capabilities at Sea-Tac include: Alaska Airlines, FedEx, UPS, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The FAA began testing Data Comm’s capabilities at Newark and Memphis in 2014 with UPS, FedEx and United Airlines.

Air traffic control facilities that manage high altitude traffic will have the technology installed by the beginning of 2019, though the FAA started deploying Data Comm in air traffic control towers in the fall of 2015.

“Its rollout is under budget and more than two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule,” the release also stated. “That budget savings will enable the FAA to deploy Data Comm at even more airport.”

The 55 air traffic control towers it’s currently operational at include:

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore-Washington, Boston, Burbank, Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare, Chicago Midway, Cleveland, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Dallas Love, Denver, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Bush, Houston Hobby, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Nashville, Newark, New Orleans, New York John F. Kennedy, New York LaGuardia, Oakland, Ontario, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, San Juan, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Ana, Seattle, Tampa, Teterboro, Washington Dulles, Washington Reagan, Westchester County, Windsor Locks (Bradley)