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Congress blamed in air-traffic control system delays

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By Bloomberg News
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 6:58 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Benefits from the planned $42 billion investment in a new air-traffic control system depend on being able to combine and move hundreds of radar rooms that are obsolete or can't accommodate new equipment.

That modernization effort is at risk because lawmakers have blocked several attempts to merge such Federal Aviation Administration facilities, according to agency data compiled by Bloomberg and interviews with former FAA officials.

“You tell a congressman that you're pulling a center out of his or her district, you're going to have a gigantic scream,” said George Donohue, a former FAA associate administrator. “When you talk about consolidating big, expensive, redundant facilities, Congress just won't let it get done.”

The program known as NextGen involves using global-positioning satellite technology to replace radar to track aircraft and giving controllers better communication tools including an email-like link to pilots. The FAA projects NextGen will save airlines $24 billion in fuel, delays and other expenses by 2020 by letting planes fly more direct routes and closer to each other.

The agency has received congressional criticism for delays and cost overruns on some early parts of NextGen, including a new computer system to monitor traffic and serve as a backbone for much of the new technology. The bricks-and-mortar network of more than 500 radar rooms and towers form the low- tech side of the system.

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