FAA: Put technology to work for Deaf pilots!

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Deaf people are a part of aviation history. The first person to make a transcontinental airplane flight, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, was Deaf. Another Deaf aviator, Rhulin Thomas, completed a transcontinental flight in 1947, and was awarded a gold medal at the White House to commemorate his flight. Around the time of Rhulin’s transcontinental flight, technological advancements such as radio communications and new regulations severely constrained where Rhulin and many Deaf pilots across the country could fly and land. 

At the dawn of the age of flight, Deaf aviators were front and center, sharing in the history created by the emerging aviation community. But as new technologies came to dominate aviation, radio communications in particular, Deaf pilots were left behind and aviation became an industry dominated by those who can hear. 

Currently, pilots in the United States who are Deaf are limited from flying routes requiring the use of radio. But today the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) modernization program -- particularly Data Communications (DataComm) -- promises to put a wider range of communication options in play between air traffic controllers and pilots. 

At the same time, the FAA’s own numbers on U.S. civil airmen show that during a period of increased demand for air travel, the overall number of pilots has decreased markedly, creating demand for new pilots in the industry. According to the Deaf Pilots’ Association, their membership numbers reached 200 at its peak. More Deaf individuals across the country are taking classes hoping to become pilots.

With today's technology being the most significant factor constraining where Deaf pilots can fly, we request that the FAA re-evaluate the development of DataComm technology to ensure that the technology will support full communications between ATCs and Deaf pilots.

We also request that the FAA re-examine and expand relevant technical and operational standards to support data-only communications, including during time-critical communications, so that pilots can rely exclusively on data communications without loss of situational awareness or increased pilot workload. 

After reviewing the foregoing, we request that the FAA revisit the limitations placed on Deaf pilots and let Deaf aviators take to the skies again.  



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