LAST month we discussed a new Federal Aviation Administration plan, called "NextGen,” that would replace the current air traffic control system with one based on satellite navigation and control and digital, nonverbal communication. With the current system reaching its capacity, a new approach to deal with an estimated 1 billion passengers a year by 2015 is needed. And soon. That's where NextGen comes in. The FAA plan would take precise data from GPS satellites and, using advanced communications technology, make it possible to manage air traffic from anywhere in the country — not just at facilities that literally are below the planes in flight. Supporters argue NextGen would reduce delays and cut fuel consumption. Although the price is high, $4.6 billion just for the initial phase, savings would occur because the FAA wouldn't need as many facilities. Therein lies a likely obstacle. FAA facilities are scattered in congressional districts across the country. That means each has a determined protector in Washington. Congress is working on FAA reauthorization, and there's legislation directing the agency to develop a realignment and consolidation plan. But if past is prologue, the agency will dutifully craft a plan, send it to Congress — and neither see nor hear of it again. A solution would be to depoliticize FAA restructuring as much as possible. Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, former Congressman Dick Armey of Texas proposed a federal commission, patterned after the one used to identify military bases for closure, to determine where FAA facilities could be consolidated and closed. It makes sense. FAA modernization and streamlining must occur soon. NextGen looks like a plausible answer for an air traffic system that's coming under increasing strain. Politics mustn't be allowed to stand in the way. Congress should let nonpartisan experts help get this done right.