With a billion passengers a year in the offing, how will a system based on old technologies handle the load? According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the status quo will no longer fly.
The FAA solution is the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or "NextGen,” based on satellite navigation and control and digital, nonverbal communication. It would replace a system in which traffic control involves handing off aircraft from one radar site to another as planes move through space.
FAA officials say the current system, despite a remarkable safety record, is rapidly reaching its limit. In the first half of June, the number of canceled flights was up by more than 90 percent over the same period of 2006. FlightsStats.com says only 71 percent of flights arrived on time from June 1-15, down from 79 percent in 2006. "Excessive” delays (45 minutes or more) rose by 61 percent.