New text-based system speeds up LAX departures

An air traffic controller at the Los Angeles International Airport uses text-based technology that enables planes to receive data electronically instead of verbally.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Planes that received flight plan information via a new texting system at Los Angeles International Airport shaved six to 12 minutes off their departure times since the system went into place in March, authorities said Friday.

Even though sixty to 100 of LAX’s nearly 1,950 daily flights make use of the new “Data Comm” system, that number should grow as more planes receive new technology and airline employees are trained to use the equipment, authorities said.

Traditionally, pilots communicate with air traffic controllers over the radio, but that can be confusing and time-consuming, especially when pilots have to repeat lengthy takeoff and flight plan instructions to the tower, authorities said.


Under the new system, pilots are texted flight plans and upload them into the airplane’s computer simply by touching a button, which will cut down the potential for human error, said Mike Foote, vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn.

“It eliminates a long-winded conversation,” he said at a news conference.

The system will also reduce cut down on wait times, said Jesse Wijntjes, a program director for the Data Comm program, which is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Planes that have to change flight plans shortly before takeoff sometimes have to wait on the runway while pilots type a new course into the computer by hand.

So far, about 20 airlines at LAX use the text system, including Southwest, United and Delta airlines. And nearly 30 airports in the nation, including John Wayne, Burbank, Long Beach and Ontario, use it, authorities said.

The federal government has budgeted about $750 million to equip air control towers with the new technology, Wijntjes said.

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