Air Transport World

Digital smokesreen? FAA's recent decision to slow down deployment of CPDLC has raised questions about its commitment to Mode 2, despite industry investment in the system.(Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications system)

FAA's explanation for a delay of three or more years in rolling out the Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications system isn't flying among some US-based airlines, in the avionics industry or in Europe.

In June, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey cited "current economic challenges facing aviation" as the primary reason for delaying the system, which was implemented at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center less than a year ago (ATW, 11/02, p. 43). In July, Mike Gouth, deputy director of FAA's Free Flight effort, for which CPDLC is a cornerstone, told ATW that airline economic woes were preventing them from equipping enough aircraft to justify spending taxpayer money on building the ground element. When asked if that did not constitute a "chicken-or-egg" approach, Gouth replied: "The reason we delayed Build 1A was the lack of a business case and the cost to develop and deploy the program. FAA has been and remains a supporter of CPDLC, but 9/11 changed aviation and it changed data link."

CPDLC prime contractor Computer Sciences Corp. declined ATW's request for an interview or comment on the FAA decision and its possible implications. Others, however, believe the real force behind the action is not airline economics but polities and funding-based FAA program priorities. Specifically, not risking a backlash in Congress--already concerned by delays and cost overruns on other programs, such as the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System--by delaying the ongoing En Route Automation Modernization program.

"I hear one of the main reasons for the FAA delay is that the en route automation program ... had specifications written before data link was a fact and so it is not covered," says Alex Wandels, data link program manager for Eurocontrol. …

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