Apparently, we skipped spring and jumped right into summer. Every single shift this past week was a doozy, and I've resorted to a triage of sorts to decide if any of it is blog-worthy. So far, I've been distracted by the latest article at the Praxis Foundation (link on the right).
I'd like to talk to you about "data-link communications."
Some older controllers in my area dismiss the whole thing; Data-link has been "imminent" for 15 years. That may be the case. As a member of the newer generation of controllers, I'm not afraid of change for changes sake. But, even I can't see this integral part of NextGen getting off the ground. Here is why:
1 - What is the last thing you want your bus driver/airline pilot/train engineer doing when you're sitting in the back with your life in their hands? Texting on the cell phone, right? Data-link is texting while driving. A message is received, and one or both pilots have to put their head down and read the message, and then presumably, they have to text someone back that they received the message. Currently, pilots respond on the radio by holding down a button, either on the control stick or nearby in an easy to reach spot (see picture below, arrow points to a little red button - push to talk). Left hand on the yoke, with one finger dedicated to talking on the radio, the right hand is on the throttle. Where in this cockpit would you put the screen to get ATC clearances? I say we keep the clearances in the headset so the eyes can stay focused out the window looking out for things like other airplanes, weather, mountains and/or the runway.
2 - As pilots fly around, they often ask controllers if there is any turbulence ahead. Sometimes this comes off as annoying, but at least when we answer the first call "light to moderate turbulence from FL310 to FL360, everything gets smooth west of SYR", others around hear it, and can simply request FL380 without further conversation. Granted, pilots sometimes stop listening after someone else's call sign is used.....
There are many benefits to having everyone on one frequency together. Pilots hear turbulence reports, as I've mentioned, but they also get a sense of how busy the controller is to a certain extent. They hear about weather deviations, they hear holding instructions and other delays. From personal experience, "verify you are declaring an emergency?" is the quickest way to shut everyone up.
If everyone just got the messages meant for them, they would have NO IDEA what is going on around them. Situational Awareness would be significantly sacrificed. This is a clear case of safety taking a back seat to supposed gained efficiency. This issue would be much more magnified in the Terminal environment around and on the airport.
Obviously, this is a much more significant issue for single pilot operations, of which airline flying generally isn't subject, but I would assume pilots try to spend as little time as possible with their head down entering data into their flight management computers (or being distracted by burnt out landing gear light bulbs....). Lets not encourage them to take a 40 year step back in safety.
Till next time...