In a show-off of new flight-planning technology, Twin Cities reporters were taken around the MSP Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and a Delta Airlines jet on April 11. In a News Release, FAA said the Data Communications advance “... enhances safety and reduces delays by improving the way air traffic controllers and pilots talk to each other” and “is alive” (sic) at MSP.
The text-communication supplements radio voice-communication with formatted digital text messages. Controllers can send clearances, revised flight plans and advisories by selecting a message form, inputting text, and transmitting. Before departing an airport, each aircraft posts an airport-to-airport flight plan requesting runway clearance and route approvals from FAA.
ATCT personnel add departure instructions using a computer to send the information to an aircraft. Flight crews confirm the instructions and may add the departure clearance (runway used) information into the aircraft’s flight management system. According to FAA, this is a benefit, especially when visibility is limited, in that “valuable” time is saved by “equipped aircraft,” preventing the “delays” experienced by aircraft relying solely on voice communications.
What is the percentage of aircraft using MSP with, and actually using, Data Comm? Are voice communications often misunderstood? That is, to the extent that operational safety is affected significantly?
The FAA release, itself a canned form with the airport name added, claims “Data Comm is expected to save operators more than $10 billion over the 30-year life cycle of the (National) program and save the FAA about $1 billion in future operating costs.” These claims are far-fetched. The Data Comm contribution to Next Gen is a small (seconds at most) time saver per flight, when used. At MSP and other hubs, close scheduling increases safety risks, noise and pollution. Given the MSP plan to maximize hourly arrivals without over-accumulating departures, Data Comm might give airlines and the ATCT a false confidence that departures can be controlled within a few seconds during interlaced multiple-runway operations.
In a not-thoughtful or questioning article, the Star-Tribune parroted the FAA release; They quoted a Delta Airlines Captain who is at best mistaken about reduced carbon emissions. Any reductions in noise and pollution by less time “lingering on the tarmac” is minor compared to the increases per flight. At peak hours, which are increasing at MSP, most flights consume more fuel because both arrivals and departures are more often rushed and operate inefficiently. The delayed on the ground aircraft may or may not have their engines on, and if not rushed could taxi and take-off using less fuel.
The Captain'says: Nearly 300 aircraft in the (Delta) system have been outfitted with the Data Comm technology, (and) 250 aircraft in the pipeline. Note} Delta has 892 aircraft in commerscial operations.
(The Delta Captain claims) … environmental benefits, ... reduced .. time (that) aircraft linger on the tarmac. "Obviously that’s a benefit to Delta economically, but it also has a huge impact to the environment in reduced carbon emissions.”
Star-Tribune, April 12, 2017
We do not understand how more expense, noise, pollution and risk at peak hours can be taken as beneficial to our health or economic well-being. Cartoonist Al Capp (Lil Abner’s Pappy) satirically said What’s good for General Motors is good for the Country. It looks as if the Star-Tribune’s attitude is What’s good for Delta Airlines is good for Minnesota, without sarcasm. At MSP, Origin and Destination fares are high, service is poor, and economic growth is stunted. The eventual public health and other costs of pollution and noise from overflights is ignored, even as competing cities enjoy lower airfares and suffer less from noise and pollution per flight.