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Private Air-Traffic System Can Soar

Author: Peter R. Orszag
September 20, 2011


Without a doubt, GPS, the satellite-based navigation system that has revolutionized travel by car and truck, even by foot, could do the same for commercial air traffic.

President Barack Obama has proposed stepping up government investment in NextGen, a GPS-based air-traffic-control technology that will allow planes to fly closer to one another than they can with human and radar help alone and to follow more direct flight paths. The system is expected to reduce delays by more than a third, saving billions of dollars for airline companies and for the traveling public. This would mean consuming less jet fuel, so carbon emissions would be lower, too. The change would even improve safety by making us less dependent on sleep-deprived controllers.

So it's a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, though, the NextGen system is being rolled out in stages, and it isn't expected to be fully operational in U.S. airports and aircraft until 2020. Even that slow timetable assumes that the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency overseeing the project, receives the necessary funding from Congress and can meet all its deadlines.


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