US airlines are dismayed at US Federal Aviation Administration moves to delay roll-out of controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC). The FAA plans to push national deployment of CPDLC back from 2004 to 2009 to avoid a conflict with its en route automation modernisation (ERAM) programme to upgrade air traffic control centres (ATCC).

"The threshold for recovering our investment is receding," Capt Brent Blackwell, CPDLC project leader at American Airlines, told the RTCA Symposium in Washington DC late last month. The carrier has 18 aircraft participating in the CPDLC trial in Miami, and plans to increase this to 25 by September. Continental and Delta Air Lines plan to add four aircraft each to the trial by mid-year, while FedEx Express will add eight aircraft.

Blackwell says: "CPDLC in Miami [ATCC] works. The controllers see benefits and pilots see safety advantages. They want more datalink action or their enthusiasm will wane." The Miami trial involves CPDLC Build 1, which datalinks just four ATC message categories. The original plan called for trials of a Build 1A expanded message set to begin in June, with national deployment in June 2004. Build 1A improves ATC efficiency, offsetting airlines' investment in VHF datalink radios, which Build 1 does not. Now the FAA wants to avoid taking CPDLC to additional control centres while they are being upgraded under the ERAM programme.

The revised FAA plan calls for Build 1 to extend to around eight centres in the south-east USA between 2005 and 2007. CPDLC Build 2, equivalent to Europe's Link 2000, is undefined and unfunded. "Europe is bypassing the USA on CPDLC," says Blackwell.

Source: Flight International