Our present air traffic control system is, in a phrase, a relic of the 1950’s, and it is about time that our country moves towards a “smarter” and safer system for managing air travel. The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is the FAA’s plan to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS) through 2025.

NextGen is intended to replace the present radio-based communications network with a satellite/GPS based system that allows for more flexibility in how aircraft are spaced and landed. It is intended to reduce the amount of communication necessary between pilots and ground personnel, and is geared towards allowing the capabilities of the aircraft define who can fly where and how. This in turn opens up the possibility for faster and more direct routes between takeoff and landing.

The program encompasses other regulatory changes to achieve weather forecasting, data networking, and digital communications improvements as well.

Naturally, such an effort requires time, coordination, and of course, money. FAA has requested $1.14 billion for the NextGen program in fiscal 2011, a 32 percent increase from fiscal 2010. Consumed with health care issues, Congress has yet to pass a final Federal Aviation Administration bill incorporating NextGen funding, although an extension is in place.

However haltingly, it is encouraging that our nation has taken steps towards modernizing our air travel infrastructure. Stay posted with us, and the FAA, at http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=8768.