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.