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NextGen Revisited

Just a few weeks after a computer glitch in one FAA air traffic control system center caused nationwide flight delays, the FAA has announced that it is seeking bids for Next Generation Air Transportation System contracts worth $7 billion — far and away the largest contract award in the agency's history. Given the pressure that the glitch put on an already overstressed — and outmoded — air traffic control system, the move comes none too soon.

In fact, now comes word that the feds are talking about helping the struggling U.S. carriers pay for equipment that airliners need to carry to take full advantage of the NextGen technology. Airlines have long argued that this equipment ought to be considered part and parcel of the NextGen infrastructure, according to a report in Air Transport World. If the report of federal aid is true, the airlines will save billions. Once NextGen is in use, they'll save billions more from the flight efficiencies that the new system offers. The improvement in performance could be dramatic.

That's good news for business travelers. The nation's air traffic control system has been starved of funding for too long. Go here for the full report.

The other good news is that the half dozen largest U.S. carriers recent saw their best levels of air traffic in 18 months — a signal that the slump in air travel may be ending. Indeed, Southwest Airlines reports traffic is up 12 percent last month vs. a year ago and United Airlines just acquired $9 billion new planes. Since business travel is so closely linked to the health of the nation's economy, this is indeed a welcome development.

Road Warrior • Miami •