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Better Air Service on the Horizon

With all the talk that Washington is “broken,” it’s good to report that House and Senate negotiators agreed on a bipartisan program to extend Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for four years. By far the most important provision is continuing to fund development and deployment of the NextGen air traffic control system.

The basic purpose of NextGen is to switch airspace control from ground-based radar systems to a system based on satellite navigation. This, in turn, will help ease airspace congestion, decrease flight times, decrease fuel burn, decrease airline costs, and provide improved bad-weather landing and takeoff capability at airports around the country. NextGen is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking; it uses fully developed off-the-shelf technology. Regional tests with even partial capability have already validated the claimed benefits.

Unlike short-term airfare sales, you won’t see NextGen benefits immediately. But you should see gradual but substantial improvements starting in a year or so. Given the bipartisan negotiators’ agreement, the consensus is that the full bill will easily pass in the House and Senate and that President Obama will sign.

This may not be the only good news for travelers to come out of Washington this year, but it almost surely will remain the best.

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