Almost anyone who has flown in recent years has experienced flight delays that have turned air travel into a nightmare. Today, we are at a crossroads concerning the modernization of our current federal aviation system, and we now have an opportunity to upgrade our decades-old air traffic system and bring it into the 21st Century. As we struggle to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have the chance to create jobs while modernizing our aviation system to improve safety and efficiency.
The U.S. Senate will be voting on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill next week. It includes funding to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to revamp our air traffic control technology that is now more than half a century old. Our current air traffic control system is “ground based,” requiring planes to follow broadcasting points on the ground, often adding hundreds of miles to a flight. NextGen technology will rely on satellite imagery, or Global Positioning System (GPS), to guide flights along the shortest route between two locations, significantly reducing travel times and fuel consumption.
The FAA estimates the NextGen would cut the number of commercial flight delays nationwide by approximately 21 percent or 200,000 delays. According to the National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research, the total cost of all U.S. air transport delays in 2007 was $32.9 billion, including $16.7 billion in costs to passengers. In Maryland, it is estimated that the implementation of NextGen could result in a reduction of 4,100 flight delays at Thurgood Marshall-BWI International Airport. We need an air transport system on which businesses and people can rely.
Let’s talk about jobs. Bringing our air traffic control system into the 21st Century will create 280,000 jobs in airports around the nation. The airline industry accounts for approximately 11 million U.S. jobs and $1.2 trillion in annual economic activity. The legislation the Senate will be voting on next week provides the airline industry the essential infrastructure it needs to remain strong and competitive in the global economy.
While we need to address our budget deficit, we want to be smart about it. Our nation needs to have a strong, competitive aviation industry to keep our economy growing. With Next Gen, we have an opportunity to move forward in making the necessary improvements to our aging aviation infrastructure in a way that will improve safety, create jobs and stimulate future growth.