FAA Awards Contract For Digital Communications In Aircraft

FAA Thursday announced a significant step forward in its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) programs, awarding a contract that will supplement the voice communications currently used in commercial aviation with a digital system for clearer, more efficient communication between air traffic controllers, the flight deck and pilots.

The agency said it has selected Harris Corporation Government Communications Systems to provide data communications integrated services (DCIS), with a subcontracting team that includes ARINC Inc., GE Aviation and Thales.

"The FAA's commitment to Data Communications is a critical next step for improving air safety, reducing delays, increasing fuel savings and improving the environment," said Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. "When fully implemented, DataComm will make work safer and more efficient for both the air traffic controller and the pilot."

Voice communication is currently the primary means of relaying information in air traffic management, FAA said, noting, however, that voice communication is not the most effective way for controllers and pilots to communicate because it can be time-consuming and limiting. DataComm supplements the current analog voice-only air-to-ground communications system with a digital system, and it will become the primary mode of communication in air traffic in the future, the agency said.

DataComm will provide a two-way data exchange between controllers and flight crews for clearances, instructions, advisories, flight crew requests and reports. It will enhance air traffic safety by allowing controllers to give more timely and effective clearances, and more reliable messages to reduce the risk of incidents associated with voice communications, FAA said. It also will help air traffic controllers safely handle more traffic by reducing congestion on radio frequencies and related errors.

FAA said it will deploy data communications in air traffic control towers by 2016 and in air traffic facilities that manage high altitude traffic beginning in 2019. The $331 million contract covers seven years, with 10 additional one-year options. Harris Corporation also will be responsible for contracting directly with communication service providers to establish data communications network services.

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