Air traffic Control Update Needed Now
July 29, 2009
  • Share
  • Editorial

    President-elect Barack Obama and Congress are facing a mountain of well-publicized problems when they get to work next year.

    But modernizing air traffic control is a crucial piece of business that isn’t getting enough attention.

    After deadlocking over extraneous taxes that were added to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill earlier this year, Congress punted by passing a temporary extension of the FAA, which will expire in March.

    Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, recently said the FAA legislation must be a priority in 2009, and her advice merits attention.

    The Associated Press last month reported that federal officials don’t expect to fully modernize air traffic control until the early 2020s.

    But the update is urgent. An AP analysis found that the airlines would have saved $5 billion in fuel costs this year if the outdated World War II – era radar system already had been replaced with GPS technology.

    Flights will be shorter and delays fewer once the change is made, federal officials told the wire service.

    Modernization has been delayed by congressional haggling over FAA legislation and how to pay the estimated $35 billion tab.

    The proposed satellite-based modern system would save billions of dollars worth of fuel annually, which would boost clean-air goals in addition to helping the national economy by making air travel more efficient.

    The Wall Street Journal reported last week that almost 25 percent of U.S. commercial flights were delayed an average of 55 minutes in 2007.

    When personnel and other costs are factored into the total, the price tag for the inefficiency jumped to $8.1 billion, according to the newspaper.

    Airlines could put more planes in the air, serve the public better and improve their bottom lines with the modernization.

    And the Journal added that the economic slowdown offers the least painful opportunity to make the complicated transition to a GPS system because traffic is temporarily down.

    When lawmakers and the next administration consider economic stimulus, they should include smart spending such as air traffic modernization, which offers benefits on many levels.

    The Obama administration should take advantage of its expected honeymoon by pushing hard and fast for an FAA reauthorization that gets air traffic modernization moving forward without further delay.

    Date: 2008-11-12