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You're probably not going to be surprised to hear me say that you're oscillating in a metal tube in the sky steered by an air traffic control system "still stuck in the 1950s," as Nick Gillespie at so aptly put it.

Gillespie's article links to a YouTube video from November 2009 titled "Your Flight Has Been Delayed — And It's Washington's Fault," which makes the point that the air traffic control system in the U.S. "is technologically obsolete." The video, which Gillespie hosted, points out that our air traffic control model "is basically the same model that we have used since the beginning of air travel." That's a pretty damning indictment.

It is amazing that we get anywhere at all when you consider how much more modern the air traffic control systems of other countries — take Canada, for instance — are compared to America's. The fact that other countries have opted to privatize air traffic control is an important point, because there is quite a bit of evidence that they're doing a better job than outfits like our own FAA.

If only the U.S. had more up-to-date technology, we could handle many more planes with the same runways and airport facilities. That is the promise of "Next Gen," as the FAA is calling it.

Next Gen also might have prevented the recent tarmac collision between two airplanes at Kennedy International Airport, according to Bill Voss, former FAA air traffic development director and current president of the Flight Safety Foundation. Voss noted that Next Gen will provide pilots with GPS-animated surface maps in the cockpit.

Next Gen could be the next best thing to happen to air travel in a long time, especially for us road warriors. I don't believe in magic bullets, but when someone tells me that one technology system can lower my airfare, shorten my flight, cut wait periods, and improve on-time performance, well, that's pretty close to magic to me. Actually, it makes Next Gen sound like a no-brainer.

Next Gen is something we've needed for the past 10 years and something the FAA has promised for the past 20. It's a technolgy still just over the horizon, sort of like the videophone. But it's about time we got on the stick, got unstuck, and recognized how vital this system is to the future — not to mention the present — of the U.S. travel industry.

Which, as I recall, is a not unimportant part of our economy.



Road Warrior  •  Miami  •  Madrid  •  www.amadeus.comTwitter: @tentofortysix